Resolution on Mental Health and Criminal Justice

Summary

This resolution addresses mental health issues relevant to the justice system and encourages the adoption of certain practices intended to better support individuals with mental health issues, the support of law enforcement and courts to best support those individuals, and relieve the strain on the justice system in the process.

Resolution on Mental Health and Criminal Justice

WHEREAS, violent crime and suicide have significantly increased since 2020 and, though numerous factors still being studied are likely contributing factors, a rise in mental health problems has been linked to both the pandemic and restrictions imposed in response to it; and

WHREAS, research shows, though the vast majority of individuals with mental illness do not engage in criminal activity and that people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators, those with serious mental illness, especially those who also have a co-occurring substance use disorder, are more likely to engage in violence than others, though mental illness is not the only factor in most such cases; and

WHEREAS, approximately a quarter of all fatal police shootings involve people in a mental health crisis, nearly a third of those incarcerated have serious mental illnesses, and approximately 380,000 people with mental illnesses are in jail or prison across the United States, and another 574,000 are under some form of correctional supervision.; and

WHEREAS, in a December 2021 model policy, ALEC recognized the significant impact of PTSD on law enforcement officers and lent support to training, wellness, and support mechanisms designed to address this; and

WHEREAS, many people with mental illness are arrested and ultimately jailed and imprisoned for minor offenses in large part because of the lack of an integrated crisis response system and available alternatives particularly in rural areas and small towns, though there are proven approaches such as the sequential intercept model for identifying and diverting such individuals in appropriate cases;

WHEREAS, even as we must always provide adequate funding and equipment for law enforcement, research supports using clinicians to respond to calls involving mental health individuals that do not implicate public safety and one study found co-responding with both officers and clinicians led to significantly lower rates of injury and arrest when compared with responses to comparable calls involving only officers; and

WHEREAS, many individuals who are arrested have a dual diagnosis of both mental illness and substance use disorder, including opioid addiction and overdose, but the availability of dual diagnoses inpatient and outpatient treatment falls short of the demand; and,

WHEREAS, there are often long waiting lists spanning months and even years for competency restoration and residential treatment beds that results in individuals with serious mental illness spending more time than otherwise in county jails to their own detriment and that of taxpayers; and,

WHEREAS, more than half of individuals diagnosed with mental illness either receive no treatment or insufficient treatment while incarcerated;

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that we support efforts such as Transform 911 and the new 988 number and, more broadly, proper training and resources to ensure dispatchers have the requisite knowledge and skills to make the best decision about which personnel to send in response to emergency calls relating to individuals with mental illness; and,

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we support when appropriate the use of clinicians as responders and co-responders and efforts to ensure that law enforcement officers have training in areas such as de-escalation and how best to communicate with people experiencing a mental health crisis, which are among the recommendations of the International Association of Chiefs of Police; and,

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we support the implementation of proper screening and assessment protocols throughout the justice system, as well as training in how to deploy them, to ensure that those with mental illness are identified as soon as possible while also accurately distinguishing those who may have other conditions such as traumatic brain injury and developmental disabilities; and,

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we support a role for inpatient and outpatient civil commitment accompanied by due process procedures including a prompt judicial hearing in cases where a person on account of their mental illness, which may be accompanied by an overdose or other manifestation of a substance use disorder, poses an imminent and grave danger to themselves or others that cannot be mitigated through voluntary measures alone and recognize that this can be an important off-ramp from the criminal justice system and incarceration, particularly in cases where the danger is profound but the evidence at the time suggests the individual committed a minor offense or may not be guilty of any offense; and,

BE IT FURTHER REOSLVED, that we support expanded use of mental health courts in suitable cases, which research indicates lead to lower recidivism, and similar veterans treatment courts, which incorporate the same practices along with a veteran mentor and liaison with the Veterans Administration to facilitate the provision of benefits for which the participant is eligible; and,

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that, given that people on probation and parole with mental illness are more likely to be revoked to prison than others, that we support the use of best practices in supervision, including the use of specialized, smaller caseloads with officers trained in mental illness and with lesioning with mental health service providers and individualized case plans; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we support best practices for suicide prevention in jails and prisons,  passage of state laws and compliance with existing federal law requiring reporting and public disclosure of deaths in custody, and training supervision and correctional officers in trauma-informed practices for relating to those who are incarcerated, taking into account for example that some individuals with serious mental illness may not always understand instructions, and aligning prison conditions, such as maximizing access to counseling, visitation, and natural light, to promote mental health as much as possible within a secure setting; and,

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we support efforts to promote better coordination between the criminal justice system and the provision of mental health services, which can be facilitated by tools such as memoranda of understanding and data sharing to the extent consistent with applicable privacy laws.