Advocacy Alert: Support the Mental Health Justice Act – From Partnership to End Addiction

May 20, 2021

via Partnership to End Addiction

People in crisis related to mental illness and substance use disorder are more likely to encounter police than get medical attention. This results in millions of people with mental health and substance use disorders being jailed every year.

Substance use disorders and mental illness are health care issues, not crimes. An appropriate crisis response should connect people to care, not jail. The Mental Health Justice Act would make it easier for state and local governments to send trained mental health professionals instead of police to relevant 911 calls. It would create a grant program to pay for hiring, training, salary, benefits, and other expenses for mental health provider first responder units. It would also provide access to technical assistance for states and localities with such programs.

The vast majority of those arrested while experiencing issues of mental health or substance use disorder are arrested for minor offenses, not violent crimes. This has led to jails and prisons overcrowded by people who would be better served by health and social services. Further, since 2015, people with mental illness have accounted for nearly a quarter of fatal police shootings, with incidents often involving drugs or alcohol. Police response to mental health crises can be especially damaging in Black communities and other communities of color.

Police have become the default first responders for issues for which they are not adequately trained or prepared. Once in jail, most individuals do not receive the treatment they need, and upon release, many cannot access affordable, quality care or other benefits and services.

The Mental Health Justice Act is a needed step toward improving crisis response for people with mental health and addiction.

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