City cuts will cost more money

Posted: Friday, March 03, 2000

If city officials think we will save money by cutting over 40 mental health workers, they're wrong. When mental health treatment budgets and services are cut, the mentally ill aren't miraculously cured. Many mentally ill people will end up suffering alone and others will end up in our jails. It is far less expensive to treat these sick people as mental health patients than as criminals.

When John Doe's mental illness goes untreated, he will impact police services. He may call, or his behavior will cause a concerned or sometimes scared citizen to call the police to make John stop whatever he's doing. Police, who are not mental health workers, cannot deal with John's real problem.

With no social service agency to step in and assist, the police have only one option: arrest John for disturbing the peace, filing false police reports, disorderly conduct, criminal trespass, or some other crime. The arrest impacts our already overburdened prosecutors and clogs up the courts. John ends up in jail, where corrections officers are equally unqualified to treat mental illness. When John is released, this cycle is almost certain to repeat.

Juneau needs a well-thought-out plan to ensure comprehensive mental health services. This requires input from clinicians in both the public and private sectors who actually do the job, and not just from administrators whose jobs have different focuses. We all need to listen and act when city employees say their department is being poorly managed and their morale is terrible. If our public social service agency is being mismanaged, the private sector will, hopefully, do a better job.

Not only do we have a social responsibility to appropriately care for the mentally ill in our community, it is fiscally irresponsible of us not to ensure these services are readily available. Don't criminalize the mentally ill.

Camille Brill

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