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UALR: Looking at crime and mental health connection | News

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UALR: Looking at crime and mental health connection

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - Law enforcement and justice scholars continue to draw connections between mental health and crime. 

The Sheriff's Association conducted a training program last year so that deputies would be better able to differentiate between criminal and mentally ill suspects while at the scene of incidents.

UALR Criminal Justice Professor, Dr. Jeff Walker, called the Department of Corrections the largest mental health care provider in the United States.

When James Holmes walked into a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado back in July, he had a decision to make--commit a crime or do the right thing and walk away. Before any bullets rang out, a battle took place between the ears.

"A lot of people who are unstable who have mental health crisis and those kinds of things wind up getting in trouble with the law," said UALR Criminal Justice Professor, Jeff Walker.

Walker said many offenders wind up back in the prison system, but the system doesn't help the real problem.

"Your Medicare, Medicaid is eliminated because you got arrested. So you can't get your medication; which means you're going to have erratic behavior... which gets you back into corrections," said Walker.

Dr. Walker said it can be difficult for law enforcement to differentiate between criminals and mentally ill.

"They could be wielding a knife. They could be acting irrationally. They could look like they're on drugs or something like that, and police respond to that. Without training, they may treat them like a dangerous person or a criminal person rather than necessarily a person in mental health crisis," said Walker.

Some states have implemented Crisis Intervention Team training or CIT which helps law enforcement groups understand mental health issues and use correct protocol during incidents.

Walker said many cases are hard to pinpoint as mental health issues where others like the Texas case of Andrea Yates in 2001, are clearer cut.

"She drowned her five children in the bath tub. The first thing he did was give her a mental health evaluation. Of course, she's got mental health issues. She just drowned her five children," said Walker.

Despite the lack of thorough statistics, Walker said more law enforcement agencies need specialized units, focusing on mental health.

"It's not a good system. The system that we have in the department of corrections works very hard to do the best they can with what they have," said Walker.

Walker said the nearest CIT Unit right now is in Memphis, but he said some Arkansas Law Enforcement agencies are working with legislators to solve the growing issue.


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