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Community must tend to those with mental illness

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Many Albuquerque residents are disturbed by the recent police shooting of James Boyd, a mentally ill homeless man with an extensive criminal past. News reports have documented a timeline showing his time in and out of the Metropolitan Detention Center and occasionally in the state’s only psychiatric treatment center, which is more than 100 miles away in Las Vegas.

Many are talking about the type of changes needed to occur for the community to more appropriately manage the high numbers of mentally ill people in the criminal justice system.

One change that needs immediate attention is the development of more mental health options. Law enforcement must have immediate resources available to them when trying to work with the mentally ill.

As it stands, the Metropolitan Detention Center has unfortunately become the primary place to turn.

You may be astounded to learn that 52 percent of the MDC inmates require some level of psychiatric services. That is more than 900 prisoners with mental health needs.

The jail most certainly is not the proper treatment facility to care for the community’s mentally ill.

The impact of incarcerating the mentally ill is profound on both a systemic and individual level. The arrest and prosecution of the mentally ill consumes millions of dollars in police, judicial and correctional resources.

This clogs the court systems and diverts law enforcement resources from serious criminal activity and causes overcrowding in our detention facilities.

Simply put, dealing with it becomes a revolving door with no resolution.

Taking care of the mentally ill is a community responsibility that requires coordinating all available resources. The county’s team of public safety professionals and I are committed to being a part of the solution by working with community leaders to begin to work toward those solutions.

I am convinced we will need everyone, including the state to make a difference.

Bernalillo County is currently taking the lead in developing needed services, including providing supportive housing for people with mental illness who are incarcerated primarily because of the lack of housing and other services in the community.

The county is also spearheading efforts to develop a Crisis Triage Center. Such a facility has been recommended by two legislative task forces. The center would provide short-term crisis stabilization, as well as longer-term stays to help the mentally ill successfully transition from jail to community.

It is time for all of us to come together and create solutions to deal with the core problem and seek alternative programs, other than incarceration.

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