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Families as Allies gives Additional Feedback on Civil Commitment Bills

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In recent weeks, we have shared with you news stories and our outrage about authorities jailing Mississippians with mental illness simply because they need care during a crisis. Mississippi is a total outlier. Other states do not routinely jail people before, during and after the civil commitment process. Mississippi does. This practice must stop. Completely. It has driven people, one as young as eighteen, to suicide.

Legislators introduced several bills this session to address this crisis. We appreciate that and thank them. At the same time, we urge everyone not to lose sight of this fundamental truth: the goal of a responsive mental health system isn’t simply to keep people out of jail. The goal is to help people thrive in their communities in ways that matter to them so that civil commitment rarely happens.

As an organization, we strive to keep our eyes on the much bigger goal of helping create the kind of system Mississippi needs. At the same time, we still advocate abolishing any use of jails during civil commitment. In that vein, we recently gave feedback to legislators about ways we believe they could update the processes and language in House Bill (HB) 1640 and Senate Bill (SB) 2744 (the bills about civil commitment) to be more responsive to families if those bills continue to move forward.

We recommended legislators:

  1. Update the words used to describe disabilities (for example, change the word “handicap” to “disability” and change “person suffering from a mental illness” to “person who has a mental illness.”)
  2. Require any reports mandated in the bill to be posted on the Department of Mental Health’s website, unless information about individual people cannot be de-identified or consolidated.
  3. Consider requiring quarterly, rather than monthly, reporting on some items and aligning reporting requirements to different sources.
  4. Require more specific data on what less-restrictive treatment alternatives people are referred to and how well the recommendations work for them.
  5. Require state hospitals to be part of the referral continuum for those few individuals for whom hospitals may be the least restrictive treatment alternative.
  6. Require state hospitals to follow the same admission hours and procedures that the Department of Mental Health (DMH) requires crisis units to follow.
  7. Require data collection on state hospital referrals and the outcomes of those referrals.
  8. Require reporting of serious incidents at Crisis Stabilization Units.
  9. Change language about screening processes to clarify that it is the responsibility of mental health centers, not families, to ensure screenings happen.
  10. Allow the pre-affidavit screening to serve as one of the required evaluations if a person cannot be diverted from commitment to decrease stress on people in crisis.
  11. Review responsibilities that the law already requires of DMH in open code sections and consider how to maximize these responsibilities to address the current jail crisis and support the care system in general.
  12. Gather feedback from mental health centers about DMH’s technical assistance and training to date. Use that data to inform if and how legislation should update monitoring processes (applies to SB 2744 only).
  13. Allow free market principles and state and local laws and policies already in place to determine salary scales (applies to SB 2744 only).
  14. If the law imposes salary scales, require all CMHCs (including those certified as CMHC-P) to comply, so that unfair advantages that could inadvertently limit family choice are not imposed (applies to SB 2744 only).
  15. Remove all references and allowances for using any jail cell in both bills.

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