Jail isn't right place to house the mentally ill
We as a society seem to have difficulty deciding how best to take care of the mentally ill.
Until a few decades ago, the normal practice was to institutionalize those who had mental problems. It became apparent, however, that this sometimes led to abuses and “warehousing” of individuals who might be able to lead fuller lives.
As a result, most of these institutions were closed down. The outcome, however, was far from desirable.
In many cases, the mentally ill were simply left on their own, living in our communities — often on the streets — with little assistance. Public programs designed to help them were usually underfunded, and continue to be so even today.
When these individuals can no longer cope on their own, they end up either going to hospitals that are ill-prepared to handle their needs and push them back out into the community — or, even worse, into our detention facilities.
The fact that the latter outcome continues was indicated in a story this week in the Yuma Sun about inmates at the Yuma County Detention Center.
Yuma County Sheriff's Office officials say those who are mentally ill too often end up in the jail. “That is where they go,” said YCSO Capt. Mark Martinez, who oversees the detention facility. “There is nowhere else for them to be.”
And that is the problem. We have yet to find a way — or at least to provide the needed public funding — to help the mentally ill so they are not abused but also get the treatment and care they need.
One thing we should all be able to agree on, though, is that a jail is the wrong place.