It’s no secret that the state’s jails have become default treatment centers for people dealing with mental illness. But a task force has come up with tangible steps to find a better solution.
Jailing people is among the biggest expenses for counties all over the state and sucks up an estimated one out of every three general fund dollars.
Grace Philips of the New Mexico Association of Counties said a portion of the population in lockup shouldn’t actually be there. "It shouldn’t be that you should have to come to jail in order to be medically stabilized," she said. "Ideally, people would be identified, assessed and released promptly into services."
She headed up a task force appointed by the Legislature. Among the recommendations on the final report: Get mentally ill folks out from behind bars and into available community-based services.
"We should be prioritizing people for release who really are not appropriate for incarceration, starting with when they arrive, identifying what sort of needs do they have and what sort of risks do they present," she said.
But Philips acknowledged that there are also mentally ill inmates who wouldn’t be served by existing resources and said the state needs to look long term at how to fill that gap.
Find this report and a map of inpatient mental health care online at publichealthnm.org.