An estimated two million people suffering from mental illness are booked into county jails annually. Joseph Locascio, a Municipal Court senior judge in Kansas City, Missouri, estimates that as many as a third of the defendants who come before him have some sort of mental health problem. The NewsHour team goes from his courtroom to the streets, where a Police Crisis Intervention Team is trying to help the mentally ill before they are arrested; to the Kansas City Assessment and Triage Center where they can get help; and to an ER where too many of them ended up in the past. While those who have been helped have compelling stories to share, the programs still have to prove statistically that they work in order to maintain funding.
This series also examines the problems facing those who cannot afford a lawyer. Missouri is 49th out of 50 states in funding for its public defender system. As a result, defendants may wait years to meet with attorneys. But the PDs say they are in Catch-22 situation. If they refuse clients, they can be held in contempt of court; if they take the cases, they could be found negligent.