Jail diversion grant a good way to handle mentally ill offenders

What good comes out of putting a mentally ill person behind bars without the proper treatment?

Pathways Community Mental Health recently received a $260,000 grant from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services for a jail diversion program in Marquette County.

The purpose of the grant is to reduce the number of mentally ill people in jail and to redirect them from the criminal justice system to community-based treatment programs based on their particular needs.

Two jail diversion cells will be built in the Marquette County Jail, plus funding for facility staffing will be required for a limited time.

Lynn Johnson, Pathways crisis services supervisor, said people who partake in criminal behavior who also display symptoms of a psychiatric condition would be taken to one of those cells. A Pathways representative then would determine the individual’s needs for the best course of action.

Just as with any person on the planet, each offender is different. Crimes are committed for various reasons — some simply because of bad behavior, others because of an underlying condition.

It must be remembered that mental illness is an illness. Simply putting an ill person in a jail cell is not going to solve the problem in the long run. In fact, that might make the situation a whole lot worse.

Someone with schizophrenia, for example, might not be aware of what he or she is doing, and without a proper diagnosis, that misperception might very well continue, leading to more offenses down the road.

Triage — assessing patients based on their conditions — is performed on people with so-called regular medical conditions, so why not mentally ill individuals?

Not only is it good for them, the jail diversion effort should save time for law enforcement. Marquette County Sheriff Greg Zyburt said it will allow officers to get back on the road instead of staying with a person for hours until they are analyzed.

We believe connecting people with local mental heath care services instead of incarcerating them is a much more effective way of handling mentally ill offenders.