Thursday, May 20, 2010

Police in Calgary, Canada, team with health services to provide treatment rather than jail for those with mental health or addiction issues

From CBC News in Canada:

Police in Calgary are teaming up with Alberta Health Services to provide treatment instead of jail for people with mental health and addiction issues who have been accused of petty crimes.

Under a three-year, $2.4-million pilot project, officers will team-up with mental health workers to help people in crisis who may have come into contact with police because of petty crimes.

"Our goal is to reach out to folks with mental illness or addictions, who are in most cases homeless, and may come to our attention after committing a minor, non-violent crime, or as the victim of a crime," said Calgary Police Chief Rick Hanson.

"We want to have something in our toolkit to work with this vulnerable population, and get them linked up with agencies who can give them the help they need. They will still be held accountable to the law, however the main focus will be on finding them the appropriate help and alternative sentencing will be considered."

The Police And Crisis Teams — or PACT — will be called out to assist when street officers have determined a person could benefit from their assistance, officials said in a release.

PACT will be stationed at the Sheldon M. Chumir Centre at the corner of 12th Avenue and Fourth Street S.W. Clients will have access to physicians and specialists at the 24-hour medical treatment facility if needed. The project is funded by the government of Alberta's Safe Communities Initiative.

"Research indicates that by reaching out to this vulnerable population, we can reduce the incarceration and recidivism of people with mental illness by linking them to mental health services and supports," said Valerie Weibe, an executive director of mental health and addictions for Alberta Health Services.

"By providing early intervention for these individuals, we are more likely to see successful health outcomes."

In March, Hanson said the force is working on several projects designed to steer people with mental health and addiction problems into treatment rather than sending them to prison – a place he said they do not belong.