Monday, December 15, 2014

Please repeat that part about saving tax dollars...

Nearly every family has had at least one family member---parent, spouse, sibling, or child---who had, at some point in life, a problem with drugs and / or alcohol, a mental health issue, or an intellectual disability issue.

If you faced this, you likely cared about that relative in need. You wanted your relative benefiting from a proper treatment program which overcame problems.

What if, instead of treatment, I suggested we take and place your relative into a locked room for a specific time period and provide no help to your relative in overcoming problems. That sounds ridiculous, right? Yet, that is exactly what we do.

In the 1950s, of people requiring being held in a state institution, 90% were in a mental health or intellectual disability facility and 10% were in prison or jail. Along the way, we have chosen to dramatically change how we handle people requiring state supervision. Today, 90% of people institutionalized by the state are in a correctional facility and 10% are in a mental health or intellectual disability facility.

What makes this even more interesting is that today we better know how to assist people overcome drugs and  or alcohol, mental health, and intellectual disability problems. Great advances have been made in Psychology, Psychiatry, and various counseling professions. As we better know how to help people, fewer people are being provided with help.

We are mistreating people by not properly treating them. We need to get help to those who need it.

One easy way to do this is when someone in Commonwealth custody is identified with a problem, the Commonwealth should offer help. People arrested for a non-violent crime should be evaluated for a drug, alcohol, or mental health issue. If one exists, they should be offered an option to enter a treatment program for a time period appropriate to resolving the problem for that individual. If the person successfully completes the treatment program, the arrest record will be expunged. Or, the person may opt instead to continue with the justice system procedures and probably face trial.

This evaluation system be able to offer treatment at a time when the Commonwealth has them in custody. Many people will opt to receive treatment over trial. More people’s lives will be enhanced from completing treatment. The lives of their families and those around them will also improve.

This will also be one of state government’s greatest cost savings. Our prisons are overloaded with people who commit a non-violent crime because their actions resulted from drug use, alcohol use, or a mental health issue.  It costs far more money to imprison someone than it costs to treat someone. It is estimated that each dollar spent on treatment saves government seven dollars in corrections costs. Getting many more people into treatment will save enormous amounts of money.

This is a common sense approach that will improve lives and save tax dollars. What is needed is to implement this system. The results could vastly improve Pennsylvania.


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