We Must Stop Using Our Jail as an Ineffective and Inhumane Mental Health Facility
If I am elected prosecuting attorney, I will treat mental illness as an illness and work with the police and mental health experts to divert seriously mentally ill people to treatment instead of arresting them and locking them up in jail. The job of the Prosecuting Attorney for the City and County of Honolulu is public safety. We must insist on treatment instead of relying solely on incarceration.
Nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness. In some cases, the illness is mild and can be managed with medication, but there are an estimated 11.2 million adults in the United States who suffer from Severe Mental Illness (SMI) that substantially interferes with or limits their ability to engage in many of life's daily activities.
Although mental illness is not a crime, it is often treated like one, and as a result, the number of people with serious mental illness in our country's jails and prisons is nearly 14 times greater than the number residing in state psychiatric hospitals. Our jails and prisons have become de facto mental health treatment centers even though they are not staffed with mental health professionals and are not equipped to competently manage or treat mental illness.
As a public defender I have had many clients who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or other serious illnesses. Their illness is frequently so severe and persistent that they cannot hold a job, and many of them are homeless and repeatedly cycle in an out of jail. They do not behave like the rest of us because their lives are not governed by rational thinking but by the voices they hear, the dark depression they feel, and the trauma they carry deep within themselves.
Criminalizing mental illness harms the mentally ill, burdens law enforcement and correctional systems, and costs taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. We must not let a psychiatric diagnosis serve as a cover to evade punishment, but we must not send people to jail or prison when they are genuinely mentally ill.
If I am elected prosecuting attorney, I will treat mental illness as an illness and work with the police and mental health experts to divert seriously mentally ill people to treatment instead of arresting them and locking them up in jail. The Prosecuting Attorney for the City and County of Honolulu must develop better means to search out treatment.
I will also support expansion of our mental health courts which offers community-based care for defendants who require psychiatric treatment, substance abuse recovery, and other individualized treatment.
But to break the link between mental illness and criminality requires more than diversion and drug courts.
We need a far-sighted mental health policy that identifies at-risk patients early on and prevents them from coming into contact with the criminal justice system. The Prosecuting Attorney for the City and County of Honolulu needs to significantly expand access to mental health services. We need to increase funding for mental health research, and we need to help the public understand that mental illness is not a crime and that with adequate resources we can enhance public safety and improve the quality of life for many people who suffer from mental illness.
And finally, the Prosecuting Attorney for the City and County of Honolulu must recognize that although we are developing promising new medications to help manage the symptoms of severe and persistent mental illness, we do not have a cure, and we must ind ways to compassionately care for those who are unable to care for themselves.
Honolulu’s prosecuting attorney is chosen in a nonpartisan election and serves a four-year term. There is no term limit for the office. Its time for new leadership in the Prosecuting Attorney for the City and County of Honolulu. The duty of the Department of the Prosecuting Attorney is to seek justice on behalf of the people of the City and County of Honolulu. But in order for justice to prevail we must holistically address the root cause and sources of crime in our community. Justice means more than strictly incarceration only policies. It means intervention, treatment and recovery. If we are truly going to make our community safer, the Prosecuting Attorney for the City and County of Honolulu must treat crime holistically and that means focusing on intervention and treatment so that when people return from our jails and prisons, they will not reoffend.