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Report calls for treatment for nonviolent, mentally ill defendants

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - 2/4/2020

Feb. 4--The state Judiciary and state Department of Health want to address the growing problem of mental illness, in part, by continuing to divert mentally ill defendants accused of nonviolent, petty crimes away from the judicial system and into treatment.

If a judge determines that a defendant is not mentally fit, then the defendant should be placed into the custody of the state Department of Health, or released if they are not a danger to themselves or others, according to a report released last month jointly by the Judiciary and Health Department.

The report calls for support of a bill in the state Legislature----that calls for charges to be dismissed against nonviolent defendants accused of petty crimes, and instead have them placed in an "appropriate facility for assessment, care, and treatment for up to seven days."

The report cites disturbing data about mental illness in America : One in 5 Americans suffer from mental illness, and 1 in 12 adults has a "serious mental illness "; The National Alliance of Mental Illness estimates that severe mental illness costs an estimated $193.2 billion in lost earnings.

The report follows a November mental health summit held at the Hawaii Supreme Court building that was attended by over 100 state and county representatives of the Judiciary, Department of Health, Attorney General, Department of Public Safety, police departments from every county, each county prosecutor, Office of the Public Defender, local hospitals, health service providers, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, legislators and federal probation, federal courts and others.

The summit opened with remarks from Hawaii Supreme CourtChief Justice Mark Recktenwald and Gov. David Ige, who called the gathering "a significant step toward improving not only the well-being of the individuals who are suffering from mental illness, but the broader community who see it on our streets every day--and for the first responders, courts personnel and community providers who struggle day by day to make a difference."

The report states that "the appropriate response " to low-level crimes committed by the mentally ill "is treatment and not incarceration. Diversion is also an effort to reduce the number of mentally ill persons in jail and prison systems where adequate treatment is not always available."

The report cites programs in Honolulu that team up law enforcement officers with social workers to get mentally ill people into treatment and away from the court system : Health Efficiency and Long-term Partnerships (HELP ), the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD ) and Crisis Intervention Teams.

LEAD alone led to a 55 % reduction in encounters between its homeless participants and law enforcement and an 18 % reduction in the need for mental health serv ­ices.

The early success of Honolulu's LEAD program has since prompted expansion to the neighbor islands.

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