Sunday, February 6, 2011

Nevada judges plead against proposed mental health cuts

From The AP:

CARSON CITY, Nev. — Judges painted a grim picture Feb. 1 of mentally ill people harassing tourists and crowding emergency rooms in testimony about nearly $100 million in proposed cuts to Nevada's Mental Health and Developmental Services Division.

Programs for autism and beds in psychiatric hospitals would be gone under the division's plan, presented during a legislative panel hearing Tuesday.

Gov. Brian Sandoval's budget proposal calls for mental health courts to be transferred to county control — a move that some say would destabilize the funding stream and put mentally ill people back on Nevada streets and jails.

"They're going to be homeless, harassing tourists, stealing cars and identities, and committing dangerous crimes because they're untreated," said District Judge Jackie Glass, who helped establish the Clark County Mental Health Court in 2003. "You're going to pay less now and more later."

The court allows mentally ill people who have committed crimes an alternative to jail or prison. Judges hold participants accountable for taking medications and getting psychiatric treatment.

Moving the program to county control is part of a 12.4 percent reduction in the division's $705 million budget approved in 2009. Those cuts also include eliminating 175 of the division's 1,725 positions.

Advocates from the Nevada branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness paid special attention to the court program, which they described as the fruit of a long effort to decriminalize mental illness and turn mentally ill residents into productive citizens.

"These people are in and out of jail because the police don't know what to do with them," said senior District Judge Peter Breen, who has presided over alternative courts in Washoe County. "The mental health courts are the safest place for them to be. Businesses are happy our clients aren't in their stores."

The hearing comes as Nevada lawmakers grapple with Gov. Brian Sandoval's budget proposal and gear up for a legislative session beginning Feb. 7.