States Mentally Ill Need Treatment Not Incarceration
by Michael Biasotti
Immediate Past President NYS Assoc. of Chiefs of Police
The state Office of Mental Health (OMH) plans to reduce the number of state hospital beds available for people with serious mental illness. As police chiefs responsible for public safety and the safety of our own officers, we believe these cuts will further shift care and treatment of the most seriously mentally ill from the mental health system, where it belongs, to the criminal justice system, where it does not.
When psychiatric beds go down, incarceration goes up.
Here's how the plan looks to us: Because OMH closes state hospitals and refuses to make full use of existing capacity, local psychiatric hospitals become overcrowded. The psychiatrists are put under intense pressure not to admit patients and to discharge those admitted sicker and quicker to free beds for new arrivals. Anyone well enough to walk in and ask for help, is generally not sick enough to be admitted.
This makes involuntary admission — becoming a "danger to self or others" — the only path in. That's when our officers are called on to defuse the potentially dangerous situation and transport the mentally ill individuals to psychiatric hospitals.
We wait hours for psychiatrists to evaluate them, only to find the doctor overrules us and refuses to admit the patient. If the individual is admitted, they will generally be discharged prior to being fully stabilized or having effective community services put in place.
The easier solution for our officers is to take people with serious mental illness to jail, something we are loath to do to sick people who need help, not incarceration. But OMH gives us little choice.
If OMH has excess inpatient capacity, it should make use of it rather than eliminate it.
Michael Biasotti is Chief of the New Windsor Police Department and immediate past president of the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police.
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