THE BLOG
03/27/2012 11:18 am ET Updated May 27, 2012

Department of Justice Finds New Program Reduces Violence by Mentally Ill

Monday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Justice Programs certified Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT) as an Effective Crime Prevention Program. This comes on top of previous recognition by the DOJ Office of Community Oriented Policing Initiatives.

AOT allows courts to order mental health departments to provide treatment to certain people with mental illness who are likely to become dangerous or gravely disabled without treatment and who have a history of violence and refusing treatment.

Historically, many mental health departments like California and New York elected to require psychotic individuals who don't recognize they are ill to become "danger to self or others" or "gravely disabled" before offering treatment. Because of this "no-treatment" policy, seriously mentally ill individuals who refuse treatment deteriorate and the police are forced to intervene. Too often, this is after the individual becomes a "psychotic killer on rampage" headline and has resulted in three times as many people being incarcerated for mental illness as hospitalized. AOT laws allow courts to require departments to provide treatment before that happens. In California, Laura's Law reduced hospitalization 46 percent, reduced incarceration 65 percent, reduced homelessness 61 percent and reduced emergency contacts 44 percent. Results in New York on Kendra's Law were equally impressive.

AOT laws were proposed by families of people with mental illness. The Department of Justice researched implementation of AOT programs like Laura's Law in California and Kendra's Law in New York. DOJ noted:

The goal of AOT is to improve access and adherence to intensive behavioral health services in order to avert relapse, repeated hospitalizations, arrest, incarceration, suicide, property destruction, and violent behavior.

Police Chief Michael Biasotti recently released a major survey of senior law enforcement officers that found police and sheriffs are being overwhelmed "dealing with the unintended consequences of a policy change that in effect removed the daily care of our nation's severely mentally ill population from the medical community and placed it with the criminal justice system."

A sheriff in Summit County, Ohio recently took action to prevent seriously mentally ill people from entering his jail arguing they need treatment instead. A Sheriff in Illinois is threatening to sue the mental health department to get them to treat people with mental illness. States are closing psychiatric hospitals in record numbers, further shifting the burden of care from the mental health system to the criminal justice system.

AOT programs exist in many states but are rarely used. The Department of Justice lists resources for states that want to implement AOT or expand existing programs, including Mental Illness Policy Org.

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