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Communities want mentally ill in treatment - not prison

Dec 11, 2014

Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

About 20% of Michigan’s inmates suffer from some kind of mental health condition.

So if the state could divert people away from prison and into treatment, the prison population would drop.

That’s the thinking behind a “diversion” program being tested in a few areas of Michigan.

In Kalamazoo, for example, police have been trained to recognize signs of mental illness, and they can call a “crisis intervention team” that specializes in deescalating situations involving mentally ill people.

Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley runs a statewide council on the issue.

He says other communities are bringing more mental health advocates into the local court systems so even if offenders do get involved in crime, there’s some kind of evaluation and treatment involved too.

“So there’s a lot of variation, but you have local buy-in,” Calley says. “This is not a top down approach. They were put together and proposed by local partners that got together and said here’s a system that makes sense for our community. So hopefully over the next year we’ll see what kind of results are possible, and then that will help us make resource allocations easier in other parts of the state. As soon as we see the results and can refine what works best, we’d love to have this sort of thing available everywhere.”

The pilot program is expanding thanks in part to a $2 million grant from the Michigan Department of Corrections and the Michigan Department of Community Health.

Another critical piece: Michigan’s recent Medicaid expansion known as the “Healthy Michigan” program.

Now that more people qualify for Medicaid, more people will be able to get mental health treatment services that might not have been in the local or state budget before, Calley says.