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Researchers: Treatment, Not Jail, Often Needed in Indiana

Nearly 60 percent of 911 calls in Indiana center around mental-health or drug issues. (fema.gov)
Nearly 60 percent of 911 calls in Indiana center around mental-health or drug issues. (fema.gov)
April 5, 2018

INDIANAPOLIS – Emergency responders in Indiana and across the country are being called out for mental-health issues or drug overdoses more often than not.

As part of a pilot project called Mobile Crisis Assistance Team, behavioral health specialists were sent out with paramedics and firefighters in Indianapolis during the last half of 2017. They kept track of what happened in each case, and now the data has been analyzed by the Center for Criminal Justice Research at the Indiana University Public Policy Institute.

Analyst at the institute and lead study author Katie Bailey says they found nearly 60 percent of the 911 calls centered around mental-health issues, drug overdoses, suicide attempts or self harm.

"What would have happened to people if the M-CAT didn't respond to them?” asks Bailey. “Would more people have been arrested? Would more people have gone to the hospital or to the emergency room?"

The idea of the project was to get people the help they need when they're in crisis. Bailey says when M-CAT team members were along for the ride, the person needing help was more likely to be taken in for medical or mental-health treatment, rather than jail.

During the study period, people were taken to jail in less than 2 percent of the cases.

Analyst Joti Martin was also part of the research team and says what they found in Indianapolis is reflective of what's happening around the state and the country.

"I think we're fortunate in Indianapolis that we've had people who were able to make this successful,” says Martin. “Other counties have a lot smaller police force or less providers, but still have a really high number of people who are in need of help."

Marion County is Indiana's largest county, and according to the Sheriff's Office, about 40 percent of detainees being held in jail at any given time suffer from mental illness, resulting in $8 million of medical care and services every year.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - IN