New Bedford's mental health clinician helps keep at-risk youth out of jail


The New Bedford Police Department is helping at-risk youth by incorporating a mental health clinician in the field.

Melissa Costa responds to calls with police. She interviews young people with social and emotional issues and low-level crime offenders ages 11 to 24.

"Earlier this week, we had a 14-year-old who was really acting out in the home," she said. "The officer thought there might be some underlying mental health issues. They brought him down to the station. I interviewed. I felt he did really needs some treatment. I was able to make that assessment right at the station and transport him to the hospital, where he was able to get further evaluated."

Chief Joseph Cordeiro told NBC 10 News that putting young people in jail is not always the answer.

"It's really to get that individual the help they need so they don't have to continue to interact with the police department and the judicial system," Cordeiro said.

Cordeiro said about 70 percent of youth involved with the juvenile justice system have at least one diagnosable mental health disorder. About 25 percent exhibit emotional distress.

"I'm a tool on their tool belt. They have their gun, their handcuffs," Costa said. "I'm an additional tool they can pull out at any time to make that recommendation then and there."

The position is one of the first in the region, made possible by the North Star Learning Center and a $10,000 grant from the Island Foundation.

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