Jail Diversion: A Mental Health Necessity in Massachusetts

Bexar County in San Antonio has adopted a model for mental health care that has successfully diverted over 100,000 people from jail cells and emergency rooms and into treatment through the establishment of a restoration center and training program for police officers. The recent Globe Spotlight article on mental health describes this successful program. It’s time for us to adopt a similar model in Massachusetts.

Over the past few years, I have been working hard to push legislation that would effectively divert the mentally ill away from jail cells and emergency rooms and into appropriate treatment. I plan to continue the fight for better access to treatment by filing a bill, similar to a budget amendment I filed last year, that would fund a four year planning and implementation grant for a restoration center in Massachusetts that would be similar to the one mentioned in the Globe story.

I also plan to re-file S.1030, An Act to provide critical community health services, which would allow providers to petition the district court for mandated outpatient treatment for any mentally ill patient who is not competent enough to make informed decisions about their care and is likely to get better with services and, at the same time, require the state to provide those services.

To me, there is nothing more egregious than criminalizing someone who suffers from a mental illness. Individuals with severe mental illness who become involved with the police do not belong in the prison system - they belong in treatment. If we can find a way for the community to work together to solve this problem, we can better the lives of those who need us most.