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De-institutionalization: Releasing the Mentally Ill Has Created a New Problem for Law Enforcement That Requires a New Set of Skills

NCJ Number
Law Enforcement Technology Volume: 27 Issue: 10 Dated: October 2000 Pages: 90-98
Keith W. Strandberg
Date Published
October 2000
6 pages
This article discusses issues with which the police must deal if they are to be prepared to respond appropriately to mentally ill persons in the community because of the large-scale deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill.
Without follow-up services and ongoing care, mentally ill individuals who have been discharged from in-patient care often stop taking their medication and engage in behaviors that cause them to be confronted by police officers. Police officers must be trained to identify behaviors and mental processes that suggest the possibility of mental illness in persons with whom they are interacting. In such cases, police must call in mental health professionals, either before arrest or immediately after (but before booking). The focus must be on appropriate diagnosis of illness and the provision of treatment, rather than upon routine criminal justice processing. Unless the person is violent or a threat to himself/herself, every effort should be made to keep the mentally ill person out of the criminal justice system, which is not adequately equipped to provide mental health services. The key to the appropriate management of mentally ill persons by police officers is training that enables them to identify mental illness and make the proper contacts and referrals needed for correct diagnosis and treatment.