Proposed bills would reduce backlogs for inmate mental health care

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published December 22, 2017

 Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard

Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard

LANSING — If you had a problem with your furnace, you probably wouldn’t call a roofer.

Sometimes, though, our law enforcement officers feel like they’re trying to solve problems they’re not equipped to handle, particularly when it comes to incarceration. It takes professionals to treat the rampant mental and physical illness problems that plague Michigan jails, and that when untreated, account for the startling numbers of recidivism.

With that in mind, Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard worked with state legislators on both sides of the aisle to craft five pieces of legislation that would give state and county law enforcement officials the option of turning mentally or physically ill nonviolent offenders over to organizations that can help them more effectively.

House Bills 5234 and 5245, sponsored by Rep. Martin Howrylak, R-Troy, and Rep. Klint Kesto, R-Commerce Township, would authorize sheriffs and the Michigan Department of Corrections to include more options for providing offenders with medical or mental health diagnoses and treatment, and then allow for those costs to be defrayed by Medicaid.

The congressmen also backed House Bills 5243, 5244 and 5246 to reduce the wait time that individuals in the criminal justice system experience awaiting mental health evaluations. Right now, when psychiatric evaluations are required to determine competency for trial, Michigan defendants spend an average of six months in jail for that analysis before the trial can even begin.

The legislation would shave that time down to a maximum of 45 days — the same standard used by the federal government — for those evaluations. To do this, the measure would allow the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to certify more facilities that can offer those diagnosis services.

Kesto said the expedited system would ensure that tax dollars allocated for corrections are used more efficiently, since treatment of mental illness ultimately costs less than paying for a subject’s incarceration, particularly when that individual returns to jail multiple times because his or her illness isn’t resolved.

“We need to be better stewards of tax dollars for our citizens, but keep communities safe. Hard on crime, soft on taxpayers,” Kesto said. “There is a large population (in jails) with mental issues that aren’t a danger to the public, but the cost of treating them while incarcerated is a large cost. That’s an expensive population. We need to be better stewards of tax dollars for our citizens and find them the right treatment so it’s not an added expense to our corrections budget, which is about $2 billion.”

In the Oakland County Jail, about a third of the incarcerated population is on medication for mental health purposes. That’s an 8 percent increase from the early 2000s. 

The bills were introduced to the Michigan House of Representatives by the House Law and Justice Committee Dec. 5.