October 24, 2016 by Sara Patricolo, NMSU News Center
For too long, jails have served as treatment facilities for people suffering from mental health conditions. It’s a local and national reality. In fact, at any given time, more than 40 percent of the jail population in the Doña Ana County Detention Center is being treated for mental illness in a system designed to incarcerate, not to deliver health care.
Reform is underway in Doña Ana County with the help of a collaborative of judicial, medical, law enforcement and other community stakeholders who comprise the Doña Ana Wellness Institute and the Stepping Up Partnership. On Nov. 3, these stakeholders will provide an update about their work and define specific policy and system priorities during a Domenici Institute Forum on the New Mexico State University campus in Las Cruces. Students and members of the public are encouraged to attend.
“The intent is to develop a plan that makes it easier for behavioral health and criminal justice systems to work together,” said Wellness Institute Chair and physician John Andazola. “There are proven models and strategies we can adopt from other parts of the country, but they require the support of the community and state legislators. In some cases, state law needs to be changed just to permit collaboration among agencies and changes to service models.”
Modeled after a national program called the Stepping Up Initiative, the Doña Ana Wellness Institute, with the Stepping Up Partnership, seeks to help people living with mental illnesses stay out of jail and on a path to recovery with jail diversion options to avoid incarceration, crisis intervention systems, community re-entry support services, and improved data collection and sharing.
Miami-Dade County Judge Steve Leifman, who spoke at the recent Domenici Public Policy Conference and met with members of the Doña Ana Wellness Institute, called the criminalization of the mentally ill a “national crisis.”
“Our community mental health systems – and it’s not just mine, it’s all of ours – our crisis system and our laws are painfully antiquated, fragmented and do not reflect modern science and medical research, and practices and are in great, great need of reform,” Leifman said during his remarks at the September conference.
“We are spending so much more per capita to restore people with mental illness so we can try them, than on treatment to keep them out of the system.”
Leifman is nationally recognized for initiating system and service changes in Miami-Dade County that have saved the county nearly $12 million per year. He is a Stepping Up Initiative partner.
“We have the needed commitment from the community agencies who are the providers of care, who are the first responders, the court system, and others,” Andazola said. “We are ready to make an impactful change for Doña Ana County. We’re ready to share our vision and earn the additional support we need to make this happen.”
The Domenici Institute Forum on Nov. 3 will open with remarks from NMSU Chancellor Garrey Carruthers, New Mexico State Senator Mary Kay Papen, and Doña Ana Wellness Institute member Jamie Michael.
Sponsored by the Paso del Norte Health Foundation, the forum takes place on the Las Cruces campus of New Mexico State University in the Yates Theater of Pete V. Domenici Hall, 3014 McFie Circle. The forum begins at 4:45 p.m. and is scheduled to conclude at 6:15 p.m., with a reception to follow. Campus parking is free in permit lots after 4:30 p.m. and there is no cost to attend the forum. Attendees are asked to RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 575-646-2066.