On May 23, the House of Representatives Law and Justice Committee, heard testimony on how to reduce the number of mentally ill in prison.

Judge Milton L. Mack, Jr., state court administrator, State Court Administrative Office, offered recommendations to improve the mental health system.

Mack began his testimony by stressing that mental illness is treatable, recovery is possible, and persons with serious mental illnesses can lead productive and satisfying lives.

According to Mack, individuals suffering from serious mental illness comprise 23 percent of Michigan’s prison system. However, Michigan’s mental health code does not promote early intervention. Mack said:

For many of our citizens, our mental health system is hopelessly outdated and ineffective. The evidence is everywhere. Our jails and prisons are overflowing with people because they were unable to obtain timely treatment for their mental illnesses. 

Countless others are homeless or suffer state-imposed impoverishment in order to maintain eligibility for mental health care. Other victims of our broken mental health system include actual victims of avoidable crimes and frustrated, burned out family members.

Mack pointed to assisted outpatient therapies (AOT) as one early intervention strategy that promotes recovery.

AOT is a practice of delivering outpatient treatment under court order that has proven effective at increasing medication adherence, reducing hospital readmission, and promoting recovery. Mack recommended that AOT to be a part of the release plans from hospitals, jails, and prisons. He indicated this would reduce the cycle back into the system for individuals with mental illness.

Steven Mays, diversion administrator, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, outlined the purpose and work of the Mental Health Diversion Council. The Council, an advisory body to the governor, is working to create an action plan to divert individuals with mental illness out of criminal justice involvement and into appropriate treatment.

The overarching goals of the Council are to strengthen pre-booking jail diversion and expand post-booking services for individuals with mental illness, ensure quality behavioral health treatment in correctional facilities, reduce unnecessary incarceration, and establish a coordinated system to facilitate systems change.

The Council is implementing 11 pilot programs to connect with people with mental illness prior to any criminal justice system involvement and extending through parole and probation.

Lisa Done, community liaison, Oakland Community Health Network (OCHN), recommended the state invest in jail- and community-based services for individuals with mental health issues.

Lt. Steve Snyder described crisis intervention training (CIT) conducted by the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office. CIT is a nationally recognized community program designed to promote positive outcomes during crisis situations. The training has increased the number of diversions for Oakland County. Snyder said:

The crisis intervention training was one of the two greatest tools we have received. We are seeing an incredible change in officers just dealing with normal calls because of the tools they are receiving in the training. They are dealing with victims, suspects, everyone at the scene in a completely different way. They are avoiding conflict and de-escalating the situation.

Oakland County Sherriff’s Office is incorporating the training into all of its correctional academies. Snyder recommended that CIT training be offered in officer academies statewide.