The National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) Utah and the Utah Support Advocates for Recovery Awareness (USARA) are longtime advocates for individuals and families who struggle with mental illness and/or substance use disorders. We've seen the triumphs and tragedies for Utahns across the spectrum. These brain disorders don't confine themselves to any single age group, demographic or economic status. But all too often they contribute to actions that may land the person in the county jail or state prison.
Because of our role, we have an important perspective on the state of Utah's current review of how it deals with its inmates, probations and parolees in partnership with the nonprofit Pew Foundation's Justice Reinvestment Initiative. We start by recognizing that mental illness and addiction are brain disorders physical conditions similar to other chronic disorders such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease, all of which require comprehensive and continuous health care.
We absolutely recognize that people who break the law and cause harm to others should face the legal consequences of their actions. However, persons who have committed offenses due to behavior influenced by brain disorders require treatment, not punishment. NAMI Utah and USARA believe that a prison or jail is never an optimal therapeutic setting and that the state of Utah has an obligation to develop and implement appropriate programs for individuals whose untreated brain disorders may lead to more bad behaviors or crimes.