Law enforcement officials believe bill will help those suffering from mental illnesses

Published: Mar. 10, 2022 at 9:12 PM CST
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - Jail or the emergency room, unfortunately, those are the only options for law enforcement in most parts of North Alabama when a person is in the middle of a mental health crisis.

Current laws allow officers to involuntarily commit someone who is an immediate danger to themselves or others.

A proposed bill could change that, giving officers the ability to take someone they perceive as a threat straight to a mental health treatment center.

A spokesperson for the Madison County Sheriff’s Office tells us far too many people are ending up in jail who simply need mental health treatment.

This bill sponsored by Representative Rex Reynolds, a former Huntsville police chief, gives law enforcement officers the power to take someone straight to a state mental health treatment center instead.

Representative Reynolds says the law as written now is not helping people suffering from mental health problems get the help they need.

“During that critical incident, either impacts our jails or impacts our healthcare system, our emergency room. So let’s bypass that, if they need mental health care, let’s get them straight to a mental health professional,” Rep. Reynolds said.

But it’s not just one single law enforcement officer that can make this in-the-moment decision, a crisis intervention, or mental health officer who has gone through extensive training must be on scene and agree.

“The next business day there will be a probate hearing in front of a probate judge in reference to that commitment,” Reynolds said.

“You’ve got individuals in jail that are charged with crimes that I believe, I feel that, if they had received proper treatment for mental health issues, they wouldn’t be there in the first place,” Brent Patterson said.

Madison County Sheriff’s Office Spokesperson, Brent Patterson says this bill is about keeping people out of the justice system.

“Once you’re in the criminal justice system, it’s hard to recover from mental health. What we’re looking at is being able to spearhead this before it gets to the jail,” Patterson said.

The bill passed the State House 103 to 0, and Representative Reynolds is optimistic it will get signed into law.

Rep. Reynolds says this bill supports the new 24-hour crisis intervention center by Wellstone, which is opening this summer.

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