Yesterday, we briefly explored the opioid crisis in NC. Today, we'll look at the related issue of putting people with mental health or addiction issues in prison instead of in treatment. The administrator of Adult Corrections and Juvenile Justice in NC reports that 17% of inmates have a mental health diagnosis, and most have more than one. Drug possession is the number one crime that lands people in prison, and "of 17,366 North Carolina inmates screened for substance abuse during the 2016-17 fiscal year, the majority (71 percent) need long-term substance use disorder treatment." NC Health News. 95% of these inmates eventually will be released back to the community. In a 2017 report sent to NC lawmakers, a retired prison psychologist said many of the state’s efforts to reform mental health for inmates have done more harm than good: Charlotte Observer.

A few NC counties have begun to address these issues by creating mental health courts, similar to drug courts, where the focus is more on problem-solving and treatment than on sentencing. NC Roadmap 2025, NC Courts.

More NC counties have passed a resolution created by the Stepping Up Initiative pledging to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in county jails. See if your county is on the list. If it's not and you support it, contact your city council to ask them to consider it.

Sheriffs and District Attorneys (DAs) each play a role in this process, along with police departments and courts, and many areas are electing sheriffs and DAs in 2018. Ask about this issue when you attend their candidate forums before the May primary and November election. On the state level, read the recommendations of the National Alliance on Mental Illness NC, #4 on the list, and find out whether your NCGA legislative candidates support them. People with mental illness and addiction need treatment, not punishment.

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