It is far past time that we treat mental illness like a medical condition, which it is. We need to stop stigmatizing and criminalizing mental health issues. For far too long, we’ve been focused on punishing behavior rather than identifying causes and treating those in a sensible way.
One of my top priorities as the next District Attorney is to ensure that we have a robust diversion program, similar to the one that I set up and ran in another district. Rather than seeking prison sentences for non-violent felony cases, we took those who had been charged with those crimes and connected them with mental health resources in the community (which far exceed what would be available in the prison system), allowing them to stay in their jobs. They repaired the harm that they caused to their communities through community service, restitution, and letters of apology, and when they successfully completed the program, we dismissed the case so they were not saddled with the baggage of a felony conviction for the rest of their lives.
We also need more resources devoted to having mental health professionals included as co-responders to certain 911 calls. If an individual is having a mental health crisis, that can often be more effectively addressed by a mental health professional who is trained in addressing those issues as well as de-escalating situations. We need the police to be focused on stopping and investigating crimes, not trying to enact mental health triage without appropriate training.