Mentally ill | May 6, 2012

By Jeff Gerritt, Detroit Free Press

An excerpt from the series by Gerritt on mental health and the criminal justice system:

“Mental illness has become a criminal offense in Michigan.

No statute, of course, outlaws mental illness — anymore than it does big feet or green eyes. But as Michigan’s mental health care system broke down over the past two decades, police officers, instead of mental health workers, became first responders to mentally ill people.

When that happens, random stops and minor offenses can turn into prison or jail sentences.

“Some of the behaviors we see that manifest themselves as criminal activity are steeped in mental health issues, or the failure to treat substance abuse,” Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee Jr. told me last month. “Then you’re forced to criminalize behaviors that need some type of mental health (treatment).”

Read>> When jails must be mental clinics