A study conducted by the state examining its own approach to addressing behavioral health crises among Hoosiers calls for major system changes that could affect emergency response, the criminal justice system and the police.
The publication of the longer report does not mean that the proposed changes are effective immediately. Instead, the report serves as a roadmap for how to reform and finance the state system. The study is the product of a two-year examination by 24 stakeholders who make up the Behavioral Health Committee, including mental health experts, local and state politicians, police and doctors.
more:Read the report here
The implementation of the study’s recommendations requires the approval of the General Assembly. If passed, here are three ways to change the criminal justice system in Indianapolis:
1. More mental health professionals in Indianapolis who can respond to requests for help
Improving emergency crisis response and suicide prevention were highlighted as priorities by study stakeholders. They said the new National Suicide Prevention Lifeline launched this year provides a natural way to tackle both.
The 988 system is a way to request support and care for people going through a mental health episode or for people who are concerned about a loved one by simply calling 988.
The report suggests taking the 988 system a step further by creating teams of behavioral health professionals who can be sent directly to the caller if needed. Such an effort is already underway by the state, backed by US bailout law dollars. But to make the program continue once the federal dollars are used, the report suggests a $1 surcharge on phone bills.
The researchers also suggested creating a 24-hour reception facility that could treat some people if needed after these calls, rather than taking them to the emergency room.
2. More Indianapolis police officers can focus on public safety versus mental health calls
The study reported that when officials in Phoenix began using crisis response teams and a 24-hour care facility, they found that 37 full-time police officers in the city were freed to focus on public safety versus mental health calls and transportation.
Indianapolis police and city leaders said having more behavioral health professionals who can respond to such calls without law enforcement presence could benefit everyone involved.
Sgt. Lance Darden, who oversees the Indianapolis Police’s mobile crisis assistance teams, said the unit provides a critical service to people in crisis situations and connects them to services. Mobile Crisis Assistance Teams, or MCAT, consists of an officer and a physician who can answer calls related to mental health.
At the same time, he said, not every call for help requires a law enforcement presence.
“We found that many of the calls we requested were unrelated to criminal activity,” Darden said. “So we’re really pleased with the expansion that’s being planned here in Marion County and statewide with the 988.”
Efforts are already underway in Indianapolis to pilot a program that would have doctors available 24 hours a day to answer mental health calls. Darden and leaders from the Office of Public Health and Safety said having additional health professionals available to dispatch through the 988 system would complement, not replace, the MCAT or physician-led response teams in Indianapolis.
“The biggest part of this is making sure we form teams that can respond to our community in the best possible way,” said Lauren Rodriguez, director of the Office of Public Health and Safety.
Funding for a pilot medical program in Indianapolis is pending full city council approval at the next budget vote in mid-October.
3. More ways for nonviolent defendants to get treatment versus jail time
Often, stakeholders said, people with behavioral health disorders who do not pose a risk to public safety become entangled in the justice system and imprisoned, leading to overcrowding. Much needs to be addressed to this end, the report said, but priority must be given to expanding mental health courts.
These courts fall under the umbrella of what are known as problem-solving courts. The purpose of these courtrooms is to provide nonviolent offenders with the option of treatment in exchange for going to prison.
“When I see someone with mental health issues who is in prison, I consider it a crisis,” said Supreme Court Justice Marion David Certo, who also oversees the Indianapolis Court of Veterans Affairs. “I believe we have a safer society when we help non-hazardous people get the interventions they need so that we can focus our limited public safety resources on the dangerous people.”
The report indicated that establishing crisis response teams through the 988 hotline would ease some of the burden on mental health courts.
Contact Sarah Nelson at 317-503-7514 or email@example.com