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.
I believe we need to aggressively pursue and expand programs to divert non-violent mentally ill individuals from the criminal justice system and provide them the treatment they need and deserve. This should not simply be a diversion program as an alternative to jail. It must be a “mental health intervention” program run by mental health professionals, not lawyers and judges, committed to providing treatment and enhancing the lives of our mentally ill citizens who make a mistake because of their illness.
The State must also develop creative incentives for the private development of mental health facilities throughout the state to provide the full range of treatment (short and long-term outpatient counseling, short-term residential and long-term residential) for those suffering serious mental health issues and are not involved in the criminal justice system.