August 29, 2011
When law enforcement and mental illness collide, the results are often painful for both sides. Nationally, more than a half-million people with mental illness are behind bars. These unfortunate folks are often jailed for nonviolent offenses.
Even worse, sometimes the results are tragic, as in the local case of Steven Hayes, who died this June when Nassau Bay police shocked him three times with a Taser because he was shouting and pounding on a table. Hayes was bipolar, according to his family, who said he had never before been violent.
This is the sort of incident that makes us glad to see the recent decision of Harris County Commissioners Court to launch the Crisis Intervention Response Team (CIRT) program, which will introduce mental health professionals into the law-enforcement equation. The county plan, called for by Sheriff Adrian Garcia, is modeled on the Houston Police Department program in which mental health workers are deputized to ride with police officers. These mental health deputies take charge when responding to situations involving people with mental health issues.
As reported by the Chronicle's James Pinkerton and Mike Morris ("A plan to treat - not jail - the mentally ill," Page B1, Aug. 22), fewer than one percent of the people that HPD's CIRT teams encounter wind up in jail. Many incidents are dealt with at the scene, and around a third of the people go on to receive medical treatment, which the jails are obviously hard-pressed to deliver. These kinds of outcomes will now be possible outside the Houston city limits.
People who need help will get it, and the county will save money. Sheriff Garcia calculates savings of over $2 million annually in jail operations alone. And jail overcrowding will be eased. Unfortunately for Professor Edward Hayes of UH-Clear Lake, this new program comes too late to save his brother Steven's life. But Hayes supports the program: "I'm almost certain that had our law enforcement in Nassau Bay had such a team with them, my brother would be alive today."
Those are sobering words, which make us all the more grateful for the county's new program.
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Monday, August 29, 2011
August 29, 2011