Decades of failed mental health policies have placed law enforcement on the front line of mental health crisis response and turned jails and prisons into the new asylums. Deinstitutionalization, treatment laws demanding a person become violent before intervention, discriminatory Federal Medicaid funding policies and the prolonged failure by states to fund their mental health systems drive those in need of care into the criminal justice and corrections systems, rather than into the public health system where they belong.

While many states attempt to divert people from jail if their crimes are the product of mental illness, diversion alone cannot address policies making the care of those with mental illness a law enforcement matter rather than a medical one. Criminalizing mental illness worsens the health of hundreds of thousands of people and complicates their recovery by creating additional barriers in housing, employment and education. It burdens law enforcement and correctional systems. In the process, it costs taxpayers millions of dollars. Nobody benefits, everybody loses.

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