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NAMI, First Responders Press for Creation of Police Training Center Focused on Mental Health and Substance Use

Press Conference 5.2.16 web

Bill filed by State Senator Jason Lewis to Create Center of Excellence

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 29, 2016

Boston, MA—In a State House press conference at 1:00 p.m. on May 2 (Room 428), law enforcement officials from several Massachusetts communities will join Senator Jason Lewis (D-Fifth Middlesex District) and representatives of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Massachusetts (NAMI Mass) to rally support for the Senator’s bill to improve police training for incidents involving people who are in a mental health or substance use crisis.

“Police have become the first responders for people experiencing crises related to mental illness and substance use,” said Senator Lewis. “Without appropriate training for officers, these encounters can lead to tragedy—people ending up in jail or, in the worst cases, injury or death. As soon as people who need care enter the criminal justice system, recovery becomes more difficult, as does maintaining their own health, getting and keeping jobs, and maintaining appropriate relationships. This all contributes to furthering the cycle of behavioral health problems.”

The proposed Center of Excellence in Community Policing and Behavioral Health will function to:
 Serve as a clearinghouse for best practices in police response to people with mental illness and substance use disorders;
 Develop and implement Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training for all veteran and new recruit municipal police officers;
 Provide technical assistance to cities and towns to develop collaborative partnerships between law enforcement and human services providers that maximize referrals to treatment services.

In Massachusetts, more than 50% of people who have a drug use disorder also have a mental health condition. At the Middlesex Jail & House of Correction, which houses approximately 1,100 men, 46% of new admittances in 2015 self-identified with a history of mental illness and more than 2,000 required medical detox, according to Middlesex Sheriff Peter Koutoujian, a founding member of Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, who will attend the press conference.

“Providing local law enforcement with the appropriate tools to divert non-violent individuals suffering from mental illness or substance abuse away from the criminal justice system and into necessary community-based treatment has the ability to change countless lives,” Sheriff Koutoujian said.

Only 17% of police departments in Massachusetts have access to the resources and training necessary to respond effectively to behavioral health and substance use crisis calls, according to NAMI Mass data. As a result, too many people with mental illness wind up in the state’s prison system. Now, with the spike in opioid addiction and subsequent arrests, the criminal justice system is being overwhelmed with nonviolent people who are really in need of treatment.

“The Center of Excellence is needed so that police officers in all 351 cities and towns in the Commonwealth can get the training and support they need to make sure that people with mental illness and substance use disorders are connected with needed services in their communities, rather than languishing in a jail cell,” said June Binney, director of the Criminal Justice Diversion Program at NAMI Mass, who noted nearly a quarter of all state correctional inmates—and as many as half of all county jail inmates—are receiving some mental health services.

“The Commonwealth cannot adequately address the opioid crisis without also focusing on mental health needs,” Senator Lewis said.

Media Contact:
Matt Ellis
Ellis Strategies, Inc.
matt@ellisstrategies.com | 617-278-6560

About the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Massachusetts (NAMI Mass):
Founded in 1982, NAMI Mass is a nonprofit, grassroots education, support and advocacy organization. It is the state’s voice on mental illness, with 21 local chapters and more than 2,000 members. Its mission is to improve the quality of life for people with mental health challenges and their families by educating the public; fighting stigma, discrimination and stereotypes; and promoting recovery. To that end, the organization offers free, peer-led programs that provide resources, insights, coping skills and genuine support.

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