I am writing to add my thoughts to the column by Jenna Mehnert, executive director of NAMI-Maine, and the rebuttal by a psychologist, Lewis Lester, about criminally charging people with mental illness who assault mental health workers within the hospital setting.

As a sheriff, I am exposed firsthand to this issue. Our jails have become de facto mental health institutions. Lester characterizes NAMI’s position of advocacy of the mentally ill as “gobbledygook.” While I do not know what he means by this term, I suspect that it is as non-complimentary as the rest of his article.

My experience with NAMI is much different. The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill has been on the front lines with law enforcement, corrections and the current system trying to steer an uncoordinated system into an effective coordinated system of care. Many mentally ill individuals do not belong in jails and some are not appropriate for our current hospital settings because of their risk of violence.

I am certain that NAMI agrees with both Lester and I that no one wants a health care worker or correctional officer to be injured while performing their duties.

The fact is that Lester should join with NAMI and me to advocate for a facility designed to deal with the very specific and difficult-to-manage individuals described by Mehnert. Perhaps then the patient would receive appropriate care, and the risk of violence would be greatly diminished. Collaboration of interested parties is how we get things done.

Penobscot County Sheriff Glenn Ross

Bangor

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