Mental illness among our fellow Coloradans is a concern for all – from the impact on our friends and family members, to the impact it has on the homeless, and to the contribution it has to increased violence against our citizens. The vast majority of individuals suffering from mental illness will never become violent, and in fact are much more likely to be victims of violence. The mass-scale deinstitutionalization of the seriously mental ill that began in the 1970’s has resulted in these individuals being “reinstitutionalized” in jails and prisons. The wide spread chronic homelessness that we now see throughout Denver and the metro area was scarcely heard of prior to this deinstitutionalization.
Coloradans care about their fellow citizens. I believe we need to aggressively pursue and expand programs such as the Arapahoe Douglas Mental Health Network to divert non-violent mentally ill individuals from the criminal justice system and provide them the treatment they need and deserve. However, this should not simply be a diversion program as an alternative to jail. It should be a program committed to providing treatment and enhancing the lives of our mentally ill citizens who make a mistake because of their illness. Savings from lowering the number of mentally ill individuals housed in our jails and prisons should substantially contribute to the cost of developing a network of facilities to provide this treatment. The State should develop creative incentives for the private development of mental health facilities throughout the state to provide treatment for those suffering serious mental health issues and are not involved in the criminal justice system. We must also reverse the trend of building a “drug economy” in Colorado to minimize the interaction of substance abuse and mental illness in individuals to reduce the threat of violence from these individuals.
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