Blair County needs Mental Health Court

I am writing regarding the incarceration and treatment of individuals in Blair County — individuals who suffer from mental illness, autism, intellectual disabilities, drug abuse, or other psychiatric disorders, all which require specialized treatment. Many of us believe these individuals are at a disadvantage in the Blair County criminal justice system.

Sometimes these individuals make a person feel uncomfortable. Sometimes they are walking around your neighborhood, talking to themselves. Sometimes they have an outburst. Sometimes they just don’t fit it with what we perceive as normal.

Their mannerisms disturb us.

Sometimes we fear an individual, not because he/she is causing us harm or breaking the law, but simply because they are around us. We consider them a nuisance because they are different.

Sometimes people call the police because a person is bothersome, and not because they are committing a crime or are an actual threat.

Often these individuals are tackled to the ground, tazed by police or physically harmed by our public servants who swear to serve and protect.

Police need to receive specialized training in taking down an aggressive individual with a mental health disorder, so they cause as little harm as possible.

Staff in hospitals are trained to notice that an individual is escalating and how to take them down gently if they become aggressive.

Those of us who suffer from or have a family member who has one of these various mental health disorders understand. So many others do not.

More than most, we understand the complicated issues involved with individuals who have these disorders. Sometimes we are seeking help for a loved one when that person doesn’t understand they need help.

We reach out to all available mental health resources. The problem is, if the person who is having behavioral problems doesn’t understand they need help, we cannot force them into treatment.

There are incidents when law enforcement gets involved and handles them with physical aggression. Then charges are filed against them — often exaggerated charges just to get them off the street and away from the public.

The problem is that the Blair County criminal justice system provides scant mental health evaluations, medication management and psychological treatment to these inmates.

They are left to deal with the confusion of: Why am I in jail? Why can’t I go home? Why do they keep asking me about things that I can’t remember? Why am I charged with criminal activities?

Also, concerned family members are blocked from speaking with their loved one’s legal team or helping in their defense. They visit and call the necessary offices only to be ignored. They call with questions and concerns. They leave messages and receive no return calls.

To imprison a person for behaviors caused from mental illness/disorders and then provide no treatment is not appropriate.

Something needs to change. We are holding inmates in jail for being mentally ill and not because they committed crimes that require them to be incarcerated.

State Rep. Jim Gregory has suggested that a Mental Health Court be established in Blair County. Blair County has DUI Court and Drug Court, why not a Mental Health Court?

Most of the time, these individuals need treatment and not incarceration.

Teresa Rogers


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