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Improved mental health services can reduce incarceration
When people don't want to obey the law, sometimes the only recourse is putting them in jail.
For 35 to 40 percent of the people incarcerated in Nebraska, however, there's something besides a character flaw involved.
That's how many prisoners have some sort of serious mental health issues, Sen. Kate Bolz said. She was speaking at a hearing related to an interim study on the state's behavioral and mental health needs, while still protecting the public and preventing fallout from crime and incarceration.
Since the state is not properly equipped to treat many people with mental health issues, too often the only recourse is to send them to jail, where they don't get needed treatment, only to be released until their behavior lands them in jail again.
A Lincoln Journal Star report on Friday's hearing pointed out that Sen. Heath Mello, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, joined two other senators to draw up new legislation to expand Medicaid in Nebraska, in an effort to provide health insurance for 77,000 uninsured Nebraskans and making the state eligible for at least 90 percent federal funding.
Gov. Pete Ricketts and other fiscal conservatives are likely to block any Medicaid expansion for the foreseeable future, because of no guarantee federal funding will continue long-term.
Others suggested that mental health courts could be established the way drug courts do now, "sentencing" defendants to treatment rather than incarceration.
Whatever the alternatives to jailing mentally ill are, they is likely to be expensive, although we should be able to tap money shifted from the jail and prison budgets.
If treatment can help the mentally ill become productive members of society, however, it will be money well spent.