Re: “Prioritize mental-health care as jails are defunded” [Oct. 18, Opinion]:
It’s encouraging to see the editorial board recognize the need to prioritize mental-health care for incarcerated people. American prisons and jails incarcerate a disproportionate number of people living with mental illness — a wrong and untenable reality that requires justice systems to serve as de facto mental-health providers. Our punitive approach to mental-health crisis response feeds this harmful cycle and leads to the incarceration of people who instead deserve medical care.
The Seattle mayor and city council pushed the city’s crisis response program in the right direction in 2020 by expanding Seattle’s Health One program, which relies on teams of firefighters and case managers to provide specialized outreach, transport and referrals to people experiencing mental-health crises. This type of “care response” puts people’s health first and relies on unarmed responders to safely respond to certain crisis calls.
Seattle must continue to invest in an expansion of health-first crisis response and community-based mental-health interventions that limit or eliminate law enforcements’ role in responding to unarmed mental-health emergencies. This approach can, and should, be built upon in collaboration with city and county leaders across the state and country to ensure medical emergencies are met with medical care.
Kailey Fiedler-Gohlke, chief executive officer of HERO House NW, Bellevue