Letter to the editor: Prevention best

To the editor:

In the last few years I have known two people who suffered from mental illness, one of whom ended up in jail, the other being hospitalized many times outside of Lawrence. Now Douglas County is talking $30 million for a jail expansion, with some mental health amenities included. When I think of the mental health services that could be provided for $30 million (plus the extra cost of staffing an expanded jail) I believe the informed community member would think that prevention is significantly more cost effective than waiting for a crisis with subsequent incarceration.

A residential treatment center for those who need intensive supervision and an environment where they can feel safe would do a great deal toward keeping people out of jail in the first place. In addition, such a place would relieve police officers, prosecutors and jail personnel from having to treat the mentally ill without the necessary professional training that psychiatrists, psychologists and psychiatric nurses have acquired. As we look at alternatives to incarceration in Douglas County, the need for more jail space becomes less and less necessary. Let us put money where it is truly needed; leaving the severely mentally ill to fend for themselves should no longer be an option.