Column: Mental illness needs attention

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Commentary by Larry Lannan

Fishers and all areas suburban to Indianapolis are facing a crisis that has been long ignored and must be handled at some point.  We have to figure out how to handle people suffering from mental illness.

A recent investigative report by WISH-TV in Indianapolis found that among the 2,300 inmates at the Marion County Jail, 40 percent are suffering from mental illness.  The cost of treating these inmates is a staggering $8million a year.

There has been a recent move to give police officers training in handling people with mental illness as part of the new recruit class.  But is it fair to put that burden on police officers in the field?

Although the problem is clear, the solution is not.  How does the system identify someone that has committed a crime, as opposed to someone not able to even realize they’ve committed a criminal act and needs mental health treatment?

The WISH-TV report quoted one state lawmaker and a local judge looking for answers.  The legislature is looking for ways to end the constant cycle of mentally ill individuals being rearrested on a regular basis and requiring expensive treatment while incarcerated.  The judge expressed concern about determining which people are dangerous and which people with mental illness are no threat to society.  The judge wants to put mentally ill defendants on a program to ensure they are taking their prescribed medications in exchange for dismissal of criminal charges.

With Fishers moving to a city government on January 1st, it will be worth watching whether the new city council and Mayor Scott Fadness decide to find solutions to the issue of how police are supported in their efforts to deal with mentally ill individuals.

In my view, the key point in this process is when a police officer is called to the scene of an incident and the officer must determine whether the person involved needs to go to jail or be sent to a mental hospital.

One answer is to have mental health professionals on call 24-hours a day.  They could be summoned to the scene and determine whether mental illness is involved.  It’s not a cheap solution.  But failure to handle such situations the right way is also very expensive once a mentally ill person is placed in the criminal justice system.

Let’s hope Fishers studies this issue carefully and finds workable solutions.


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