Penny-wise and Pound-foolish

There were a couple of news items I saw on TV this last week or so that really caught my interest.

The first one has to do with the Minnesota Regional Treatment Center (for mentally ill adults). Minnesota, like most states, used to have a system of mental hospitals across the state. Most of them have been closed and replaced with 16-bed “Community Behavioral Health Hospitals (CBHH’s). Typically, people stay in the CBHH a very short time. This works well for some people. However, many people need a longer stay in the hospital. Those people are often transferred to the only remaining Regional Treatment Center in Anoka. The problem is that there aren’t enough beds to meet the need.

That brings me to the second story. Law enforcement officials from across the state were testifying that the penal system is being over-run with mentally ill people. In fact, over 70% of the prisoners in the Minnesota penal system have diagnosable (and treatable) mental illnesses. The problem here is they do not typically receive treatment while incarcerated. Also, our jails are bursting at the seams.

It would be easy at this point to conclude that mentally ill people are dangerous. I assure you this is not the case. However, untreated mental illness can interfere with employment, relationships and other important life issues; making people poor, lonely and desperate. Poor lonely and desperate people might just be more likely to break the law. I won’t even get into the whole chemical use issue.

Here is the ironic part. The motivation for closing the Regional Treatment Centers and keeping the stay in CBHH’s is primarily financial. It costs more to keep a person in prison than it does to keep a person in an RTC. In light of all the crazy things happening in the world, perhaps there is a better way.


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