"Mental illness should not be your ticket to death."
That is what Caroline Ouko said after watching video footage of her son's death while in police
custody. Irvo Otieno, a 28-year-old aspiring musician, was reportedly
suffering from a mental health crisis when he was placed under an emergency
custody order. But like many others before him, Otieno did not receive the
appropriate help from the criminal justice system. Instead, that system cost
him his life, reported the USA Today.
There is still a lot of uncertainty regarding the
events surrounding this tragedy. Nevertheless, it is a stark reminder that
there is an urgent need to improve how communities address mental health crises.
Police are not the appropriate responders to
every mental health crisis. Law enforcement
should be focused on preventing and solving serious crime,
and are often not sufficiently trained and equipped to respond to
crisis situations involving people suffering a mental health
Local policymakers must create an environment
that enables better and more comprehensive community mental health
services that address mental health needs before they become crises. And
when crises do occur, we should have appropriate responses that do not rely
solely on law enforcement.
Each year, 2 million jail bookings involve people with
serious mental illness. About 40% of incarcerated people have a history
of mental illness. What's more, 63% of those with a history
of mental illness never receive treatment while incarcerated.
Statute of limitations:How long do you have to report police brutality? Why one year
is hardly enough.
Police and the criminal justice system at large have
a critical role in ensuring public safety. But they do not have the same
knowledge, training and expertise as mental health professionals and
should not be the first responders for most situations involving a person
experiencing a mental illness crisis.
According to the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Crisis
Intervention Team Training is a "40-hour curriculum taught over
five consecutive days." A week in a classroom is simply not enough to
prepare law enforcement for managing a problem as complex as mental illness,
especially considering the types of high-adrenaline, and often violent,
situations that police officers must deal with on a regular basis.
Officers need more training so they can
better support mental health professionals on calls where their presence
may still be required.
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