People with Untreated Mental Illness 16 Times More Likely to be Killed in Police Encounters

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December 10, 2015; Time Magazine

NPQ has repeatedly reported on the lack of coherent treatment options for people with serious mental illness and its many consequences on community life—particularly on the individuals themselves, who often end up on the streets or in prisons and jails.

A new report published by the Treatment Advocacy Center finds that one in four deadly police encounters end with an individual with untreated severe mental illness being killed. They are, finds the study, 16 times more likely than others to be killed in a deadly police encounter. The report paints the backdrop for this as follows:

Hundreds of thousands of these men and women live desperate lives. They sleep on the streets, overflow emergency rooms and, increasingly, overwhelm the criminal justice system. Numbering somewhat fewer than 4 in every 100 adults in America, individuals with severe mental illness generate no less than 1 in 10 calls for police service and occupy at least 1 in 5 of America’s prison and jail beds. An estimated 1 in 3 individuals transported to hospital emergency rooms in psychiatric crisis are taken there by police.

Individuals with mental illness also make up a disproportionate number of those killed at the very first step of the criminal justice process: while being approached or stopped by law enforcement in the community. Enormous official and public attention has become focused on the official undercounting of fatal police shootings; barely noted in the uproar has been the role of severe mental illness—a medical condition that, when treated, demonstrably reduces the likelihood of interacting with police or being arrested, much less dying in the process.

The report joins the many others we have covered here at NPQ in recommending a more coherent system of treatment. See here, here and here.—Ruth McCambridge