To the Editor,

Decades of failed mental health policies have placed law enforcement on the front line of mental health crisis response and turned jails and prisons into the new asylums. Deinstitutionalization, treatment laws demanding a person become violent before intervention, discriminatory Federal Medicaid funding policies and the prolonged failure by states to fund their mental health systems drive those in need of care into the criminal justice and corrections systems, rather than into the public health system where they belong.

While many states attempt to divert people from jail if their crimes are the product of mental illness, diversion alone cannot address policies making the care of those with mental illness a law enforcement matter rather than a medical one. Criminalizing mental illness worsens the health of hundreds of thousands of people and complicates their recovery by creating additional barriers in housing, employment and education. It burdens law enforcement and correctional systems. In the process, it costs taxpayers millions of dollars. Nobody benefits, everybody loses.

Community-based mental health care encompasses a wide variety of programs and services designed to meet local needs. These programs and services are delivered primarily by community agencies  and are designed to serve the most vulnerable and those with serious mental health issues. Some of these programs and services include detox units, behavioral  health (psychiatric) units, and crisis centers (complete with fully staffed mental health mobile crisis intervention teams).

State and Federal policy makers have lost insight regarding their constituents’ needs, especially those living with mental health or addiction issues. Community-based programs and services in many areas of the state are understaffed, underfunded and lack the resources necessary to provide  quality services to those living with mental health or addiction issues. How many more people need to suffer needlessly with mental health issues, die by overdose, alcohol related accidents, or suicide? 

Your help and your voice is needed so that  mental health and addiction programs and services are available to all who need them and when they need them. I would like to hear your views and opinions on these issues. I may be reached at or by letter to 559 W Broadway St., Winona, MN 55987.

Mark Jacobson

Winona, Minn.