Lawmakers want to reduce crime through more mental health funding

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wwltv.com

Posted on January 16, 2014 at 7:32 PM

Updated Thursday, Jan 16 at 7:41 PM

Meg Farris / Eyewitness News
Email: mfarris@wwltv.com | Twitter: @megfarriswwl

WASHINGTON D.C. -- Our prisons have been called large mental health facilities, filled with people who've never been treated.

But now there's about to be another push in Washington D.C. to make changes that some say would prevent criminal behavior, and there's a Louisiana connection.

It's an effort to go beyond the yellow crime scene tape, before families plan funerals.

"For tax payers, not just in Louisiana but all over the nation, paying $65 billion for a kind of an overbuilt federal, state and local prison system, when we could be and should be directing some of that money into smart approaches that treat people's mental illness, that have smart and effective penalties, stop the recidivism rate," said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La.

Landrieu is one of the lead sponsors of The Youth PROMISE Act. Tulane criminologist Dr. Peter Scharf helped write the bill, which aims to give grants to communities to use scientifically researched programs to help prevent children from becoming criminals and intervene in the lives of those who already are.

"When children are abused as children, as very young children, they grow up to be very mean teenagers and sometimes very ornery and tough adults. That's not excusing their behavior. It's saying we'd be smart spending it at the front end. That's what were trying to do," she said.

Police and prosecutors have long said that upwards of 90 percent of crime is drug related.

"Part of the problem is, is that a lot of the money is being spent on prisons and locking people up and not enough is being directed to more effective treatments that keep people, not only out of jail but keep people out of committing crime," Landrieu said.

The Youth PROMISE Act calls for $17 million in spending as a start to get smart on crime.

The bill was introduced back in 2009, and never made it into law, but now there is an effort to reintroduce it in a new form.

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