By Michael Ollove
Paton Blough has served multiple jail terms as a result of mental illness.
He said his various offenses included brandishing a shotgun, reckless endangerment, destruction of civic property, spitting on a police officer, being a public nuisance and threatening a public official.
Never was he charged with being mentally ill. That isn’t a crime, after all. But there was no doubt about why he had ended up in jail.
Blough, 38, has had bipolar disorder since his late teens. At times delusions convinced him of a worldwide conspiracy against him involving police officers, former President George W. Bush and Nazi ghosts.
“Can you imagine if we had two million people locked up for having a heart condition? Well guess what? We have two million people locked up with a health condition called mental illness.”
In many places, police, judges and elected officials increasingly are pointing out that a high proportion of people in jail are mentally ill, and that in many cases they shouldn’t be there. In recent years, many cities and counties have tried to reduce those numbers by training police to deal with mental health crises, creating mobile mental health units to assist officers, and establishing mental health support centers as an alternative to jail, among other measures.
In King County, Washington, a combination of ACT teams, supportive housing and intensive community-based treatments has resulted in a 45 percent reduction in jail and prison bookings among those participating.