State lawmakers try to untangle the intersection of crime and mental illness
Drug sentences and the age of criminal responsibility have dominated the debate about the criminal justice bill making its way through Beacon Hill, but the sweeping legislation also targets a largely overlooked aspect of the system: the treatment of people with mental illness in courts and prisons.
Lawmakers are calling for expanded programs to divert mentally ill people from jail, stronger oversight of solitary confinement policies, and more training to help police officers deescalate confrontations with those who have mental illness.
Legislators also plan to study establishing a crisis center in Middlesex County where police officers and other first responders from that region could bring people in psychiatric or drug-induced distress.
The proposals, set forth in separate bills passed by the state House and Senate, are drawing measured praise from advocates for those with mental illness who have long called for reforms. Many described the provisions under consideration as positive steps but said they don’t go far enough in addressing the full scope of the problem.