Breaking the Prison Pipeline for Young Adults with Mental Illness

They are young, addicted and frequently mentally ill. They commit crimes to feed their addictions or to stave off perceived demons. And, almost always, they end up in prison.

But such a response rarely treats their underlying problems, reduces crime, or curtails recidivism. Instead, it usually just aggravates conditions, triggers a vicious cycle of repeat incarceration, and turns prisons into warehouses overflowing with mentally-ill people.

Enter Project Tikvah.

Guided by the belief that young people who are struggling with mental illness and addiction should be neither discarded nor forgotten, Tikvah offers a far more human approach that has shown significant early success.

And now, thanks to its recent $250,000 Cutting Edge Grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, it will be able to expand its innovative approach to thousands more.

From helping people like Micah—whose mental illness resulted in violent and destructive behavior, to helping others like Anna who struggled with addiction after her mother’s early death, Tikvah’s approach starts at the onset of crisis.

In Micah’s case, that meant responding to his mother’s frantic call as he was in the midst of a psychotic break. When police arrived to arrest him for ransacking the neighbor’s house to stop perceived governmental spying, Tikvah immediately intervened. Recognizing that the young man was in desperate need of emergency medical attention, team members convinced police to take him to a nearby hospital instead of jail. Tikvah then immediately began working on identifying and securing a bed for him in an appropriate mental facility. After Micah was stabilized and transferred, Tikvah rabbis met with him regularly and his family. In addition to ongoing spiritual support, staff also provided referrals to additional professional services for Micah and his entire family, and offered guidance in attaining legal conservatorship status for Micah’s future care.

For those like Anna, who struggle with addiction, Tikvah facilitates treatment through referrals from its vast network of mental health professionals and sober-living facilities.

But Tikvah’s involvement doesn’t end there. In fact, it just begins.

Team members continually monitor and supervise their clients as they proceed through the many stages of treatment as outlined in a comprehensive action plan. Ongoing rabbinical visitations and family involvement via professional services and community engagement provide additional lifelines.

And when she is ready to reenter the community, Tikvah helps her secure a job and housing, and continues supervision to prevent relapse and support permanent recovery.

Ultimately, Tikvah helps troubled young adults emerge from desperation and despair by being involved in every step along the way. With humility, kindness and a sincere belief in each individual’s worth, Tikvah helps communities regain the promise of all their members—from young to old, from weak to strong, and from the afflicted to the blessed.

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This story "Breaking the Prison Pipeline for Young Adults with Mental Illness" was written by Sigal Sharf.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

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