Across the country it is recognized that jails and prisons are increasingly overcrowded and costly to taxpayers. Indiana’s Senate Bill 52 is an opportunity to improve the state’s statistics.
As state and law enforcement officials attempt to reduce the prison and jail populations, they can often miss some of the subtle ways of preventing the growing numbers of inmates in favor of building more facilities and adding space to existing ones, both of which are costly. Sen. Ron Grooms, R-Jeffersonville, has proposed a bill promoting a more selective approach to who ultimately enters the criminal justice system.
Data provided by the Bureau of Justice Statistics show a disproportionate number of incarcerated individuals suffer from at least one serious mental illness. Co-occurring disorders, and substance abuse and addiction are especially common among these individuals. It is rare that adequate treatment services are available or implemented during periods of incarceration. Diversion services before booking present alternative opportunities to keep individuals with serious mental illnesses out of jails and prisons when they really need accessible community resources.
Senate Bill 52, which was assigned to the Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee, provides for the establishment of a fund for the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute. This fund, pending appropriation or gifts, donations, etc., would be used to supply grants to law enforcement entities to develop and operate Crisis Intervention Teams. An exact appropriation is not provided in the bill and it has not yet been assigned a hearing.
Independently, Sen. Crider, R-Greenfield, has proposed Senate Bill 231, also dealing with Crisis Intervention Teams, which transfers administrative duties of the associated technical assistance center from ICJI to the Law Enforcement Training Board. The bill cleared its initial committee on Jan. 24 and was reassigned to Appropriations. Senate Bill 231 requests a $300,000 annual appropriation to carry out the duties of the technical assistance center.
In some instances, individuals have been taken into custody due to behaviors associated with mental illnesses. The Bureau of Justice Assistance’s report, Improving Responses to People with Mental Illnesses, explains some of the issues complicating interactions between law enforcement personnel and those with serious mental illness.
In effect, more effort is being put forth in some jurisdictions to address communication issues between individuals with serious mental illness and the police. Crisis Intervention Team officers are trained to identify and assess situations in the context of mental health issues. Trained officers are mobilized to deal particularly with communication, deescalation techniques, and providing referrals to community resources in lieu of police custody.
Crisis Intervention Team officers gain knowledge, skills, and awareness which helps them assist individuals with serious mental illness who would otherwise become part of the criminal justice system.