Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce speaks at a press conference in Portland in this BDN file photo.

Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce said in a radio interview that people battling mental illnesses or substance abuse problems would be better served in treatment programs than in jail.

In an interview with Maine Public’s Irwin Gratz broadcast Tuesday, Joyce said some research shows it’s less expensive — and more effective — to send people who need it to drug rehabilitation instead of jail when they’ve committed relatively minor crimes.

[New lawsuit filed over access to Suboxone treatment in Maine jail]

“The public perception is that we’re doing drug rehabilitation in the jail. The reality is we’re not,” the sheriff told Gratz. “So those folks could better be served by being at a drug rehabilitation program or getting some assistance — with medical assistance, with mental health, or substance use. [There’s a] facade that, you know, we put them behind the walls of the jail and they’re off the street, they’re out of people’s hair, and — oh by the way — we’re fixing them, when we’re not.”

[VIDEO: ACLU lawsuit demands inmate get addiction treatment in jail]

Joyce said that addiction is a disease, and noted that “we don’t lock people up” who have diabetes or high blood pressure.

Instead, he said, “we try to fix that problem,” and suggested authorities develop more diversion programs to get people battling mental illnesses or addiction help instead of sending them to jail.

Follow BDN Portland on Facebook for the latest news from Greater Portland.

Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.