Local law enforcement and corrections officials shouldn't be responsible for mentally ill residents.
But too often, in eastern New Mexico and across the state and nation, mental patients are locked in our jails because we don't know what else to do with them.
We need a better idea.
Last Sunday's Clovis News Journal examined an extreme example of an inmate who had been jailed, then released — repeatedly — into society, only to return to spend more time behind bars. The individual, Alex Romero, is known to suffer from paranoid schizophrenia. He hears voices and refuses to take his medication and has engaged in bizarre behavior while sitting in an isolation cell.
Reporter Robin Fornoff's story chronicles Romero's extended stays in jail, the determination that the man is incompetent to stand trial, his release from jail and then his return after he commits another crime.
Then the cycle repeats itself.
Even worse is Romero's case isn't unique. Officials say there are hundreds, if not thousands, like him across the state.
County Manager Lance Pyle has offered one suggestion worth exploring.
He wants to model a mental health court after something being done in Albuquerque. Inmates with disorders, such as that which ravages Romero, would be referred immediately to the court upon being taken into custody. Inmates could get treatment on-site or perhaps be referred for placement in an agency that deals specifically with what ails the individual.
How has it worked in Bernalillo County? Officials claim it has helped reduce the re-arrest rate to as low as 5 percent two years after the initial arrest.
The New Mexico Department of Corrections strategic plan for 2012 revealed, as Fornoff reported, that 25 percent of prison inmates "have pre-existing psychiatric illness and enter the prison system already on psychotropic medication to treat these disorders."
The idea needs close scrutiny — and taxpayers can be assured it's not cheap.
But if that's not the solution, the state is full of mental health experts who have plenty of ideas on how to reduce the recidivism rate among those with diagnosable mental disorders.
Cases like Romero's ought to spark serious criminal justice reform that provides medically diagnosed inmates with a path toward a better future.
We're already spending tax dollars locking these folks up.
Let's take a careful look at what can be done to make them productive members of society.
–Unsigned editorials are the opinion of Clovis Media Inc. editorial board, which includes Publisher Ray Sullivan and Editor David Stevens.