The recent shooting of a homeless and mentally ill camper by the Albuquerque police is a reminder of the failure of the state’s behavioral health system, which leaves the fate of our most vulnerable relatives, friends and neighbors largely in the hands of law enforcement and the penal system.
Because of the lack of appropriate resources in our communities, jails and prisons now function as our state’s primary psychiatric facilities. Depending on the study, estimates of the percentage of prisoners with severe psychiatric disorders range from 7 percent to 16 percent nationally. The Corrections Department recently reported even higher figures in New Mexico, with 25 percent of total prisoners needing treatment for serious mental illness on any given day. A 2012 Public Defender Department report states that of those persons shot by Albuquerque Police Department personnel over the two previous years, nearly 75 percent suffered from mental illness.
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