People in crisis related to mental illness and substance use disorder are more likely to encounter police than get medical attention. This results in millions of people with mental health and substance use disorders being jailed every year.
Substance use disorders and mental illness are health care issues, not crimes. An appropriate crisis response should connect people to care, not jail. The Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets (CAHOOTS) program in Eugene, Oregon has been providing this type of response for over 30 years by dispatching mobile teams of health care and crisis workers, rather than police, to respond to individuals experiencing mental health or substance use disorder crises.
The CAHOOTS Act would provide states with enhanced Medicaid funding to adopt their own community-based mobile crisis services, as well as $25 million for grants to states to help establish, expand, and evaluate mobile crisis programs.
The vast majority of those arrested while experiencing issues of mental health or substance use disorder are arrested for minor offenses, not violent crimes. This has led to jails and prisons overcrowded by people who would be better served by health and social services. Further, since 2015, people with mental illness have accounted for nearly a quarter of fatal police shootings, with incidents often involving drugs or alcohol. Police response to mental health crises can be especially damaging in Black communities and other communities of color.
Police have become the default first responders for issues for which they are not adequately trained or prepared. Once in jail, most individuals do not receive the treatment they need, and upon release, many cannot access affordable, quality care or other benefits and services.
The CAHOOTS Act would improve crisis response for people with mental health and addiction, promote racial justice and reduce police violence.
Related actions to take
Ask your members of Congress to cosponsor the Mental Health Justice Act.