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Report calls for “significant investment” in mental health services to divert people from jail

Michigan Supreme Court

A state task force on Tuesday offered recommendations for criminal justice reforms.

One of those recommendations includes diverting residents with behavioral health issues away from jails.

According to findings in the task force report, nearly one in four people entering jails has a serious mental illness. That number is even higher in rural jails.

Michigan Supreme court Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack served on the task force.

“Our recommendations include a significant investment in mental health services to be able to deflect and divert people from the criminal justice system who really need to be in the mental health system.”

Justice McCormack acknowledged that communities may need these investments to develop places to divert people with behavioural health problems.

“There are resources in certain communities but in some communities there are none,” she said. “That probably explains why we saw our populations in our rural jails have grown more significantly than in our urban jails.”

Specifically, the report recommends that, where possible, people with behavioral health or substance abuse issues be directed into treatment rather than arrested and kept in jail.

“I know the sheriffs across the state do a great job of treating the people who are there but when people are in jail they can’t get medicaid coverage for their medication. Jails are not designed to treat mental health issues,” Justice McCormack said.

The report also recommends mental health screening as part of jail intake and cooperation with Community Mental Health to identify current and former clients.