This newspaper recently ran an editorial (“A cold refuge for the mentally ill,” Sept. 27) highlighting the longstanding, nationwide problem of too many individuals with mental illness in our country’s jails and prisons. I agree with The Roanoke Times that mental health systems across the nation and in Virginia are struggling to overcome both increasing demands for services and the erosion of community resources that could help this problem. However, a critical part of the equation was not included in the editorial.
Over the past several years, tremendous strides have been made to divert those with mental illness from the criminal justice system. One great success has been Crisis Intervention Teams (or CIT), which are collaborative programs involving both law enforcement and mental health providers. CIT training teaches law enforcement officers to recognize when someone is experiencing a mental health crisis and how to de-escalate the situation, reduce confrontations and minimize the use of force. CIT officers work with mental health providers to redirect people in crisis away from unwarranted incarceration and into mental health care and treatment. Today, more than 5,000 law enforcement officers in Virginia have been trained in CIT, and 83 percent of the commonwealth’s population now lives in areas with CIT.
McDonnell is the governor of Virginia.