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Making a difference for mental health Ruth Juarez | Sat, Apr 26 2014 12:00 PM

Local jails are increasingly becoming the dumping grounds for the mentally ill. There are over two million people incarcerated in U.S prisons or jails and over 10 million people are booked into U.S. jails over the course of the year.  It is estimated that over 20 percent of individuals booked in local jails display symptoms consistent with behavioral health disorder. It is estimated that most individuals with mental health disorders that are incarcerated or detained in county jails after committed only minor infractions, which are often the manifestation of their symptoms more so than the intent to commit the crime. In terms of the financial burden, per capita spending for federal, state and local correction facilities has increased by 400 percent in the last 30 years.

An ill-equipped criminal justice system leads to tragic results not only for the individual but also families and communities.  H.R 401, Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Act of 2013 sponsored by Richard Nugent (FL), is a policy that will ensure people receive better mental services when in custody and after being released to assist in reintegration to the community. Justice and mental health act seeks to reauthorized the Mental Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act (MIOTCRA) was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2004 and authorized a $50 million grant program, and it created the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program (JMHCP) to assists states and counties design and implement collaboration efforts between criminal justice and mental health systems. During the last 10 years (MIOTCRA) has provided assistance to millions of people and even with its limitations the (JMHCP) has funded many programs and assisted individuals needing mental health services and those in criminal justice seeking assistance by providing support and crisis intervention teams which reduce spending and most importantly it saves lives. It authorizes investment in our Veterans by providing court treatment and assistance for those suffering from PTSD, substance abuse and other mental health conditions. As well as supporting the development of curriculum that teaches law enforcement personnel in responding to incidents involving individuals with mental health disorders, increases focus on correction-based programs that reduce recidivism rates and screening practice that identify inmates with mental health conditions.  The proposed policy seeks to prevent flaws with existing program as well as more accountability and evidence based practices proposed programs.

According to UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, nearly two million adults in California have mental health needs, based on self-reported symptoms as well as impairments. Of those two million adults approximately half had not received mental health treatment in the past year (2011). In San Diego the Its Up to US campaign continues to empower San Diegans to reduce stigma by openly talk about mental health, recognize symptoms, seek out help, utilize resources which include suicide prevention and support, men, women, parents, younger and older adults, Veterans, LGBTQI, as well as faith based communities in our local community.

Even with the efforts of our community we continue to see tragedies like the one seen earlier this year when John Edward Chesney, 62 year old Army veteran was shot and killed by police in Downtown San Diego. Investigators found that Chesney had been holding a black AR-15 replica pellet gun. According to those who had seen him prior to this death, Chesney apparently had been in a suicidal state of mind earlier that day. 

Get involved today, contact members of congress and urge them to support H.R 401 Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Act. Find you Representative and encouraged them to support at http://www.house.gov/representatives/find

Juarez is  a USC-VAC, School of Social Work graduate student.

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