Better screening is needed
Much of the attention to inadequate access to mental health treatment has focused, understandably, on mass violence committed by mentally ill people. The shootings at the Washington Navy Yard are just the most recent example.
But even the scope of those and other tragedies is only part of the story. American prisons are full of mentally ill people who are handled as criminals rather than patients. In Pennsylvania, according to the state Department of Corrections, about 40 percent of female inmates and 20 percent of male inmates suffer from some form of serious mental illness.
And as several shootings of mentally ill people by local police in Northeast Pennsylvania have shown, law enforcement often is ill-equipped to identify and deal effectively with people who are incapable of responding appropriately to officers' commands.
State Rep. Thomas Caltagirone, a Berks County Democrat, has introduced a bill requiring mandatory training for police and magisterial district judges to better identify mental health problems in suspects. The bill would include arrest and search and seizure procedures, bail options for the judges, and diversionary sentencing options rooted in treatment rather than incarceration.
At the federal level, Republican Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania will introduce a package of bills aimed at improving treatment options and a similar bill has been introduced in the Senate.
Lawmakers are moving in the right direction by recognizing that the problem is far deeper than the violence the sometimes erupts on the surface.