Friday, February 3, 2012

Decriminalizing The Mentally Ill

A common belief among many people is that incarceration is a justifiable punishment for many crimes. The question at hand is, does a person who has committed a crime who is mentally ill get the proper treatment and care while in prison and upon their release from prison or jail? These people who have been entered into the criminal justice system are sometimes lost souls who never get much more thought once sentencing is done. Some believe that these mentally ill criminals do their time and are rehabilitated and cured by the time their time is served. This couldn't be farther from the truth.

There are over three hundred fifty thousand inmates in America’s prisons and jails. The growing number of inmates found in the jails and prisons today are a direct effect of the Government closing down many of the State run hospitals that began in the 1980’s. With the lack of resources many of these patients because of their mental illness, began to be arrested for petty crimes. The Bureau of Justice Statistics of the US Department of Justice reported in the year 2000, nearly 13% of inmates were found to have a mental or emotional condition and received some type of medical treatment or intervention while incarcerated. 17 New Jersey jails were surveyed to find out what type of care, if any care was done for inmates upon release from jail. Spokespersons at 10 of the 17 jails reported that they provide care after release for less than 10% of the mentally ill population in their jails. With that said, most of the mentally ill prisoners are released back into our communities no better off than the day they stepped foot through the prison doors. 

Many in the Criminal Justice field agree that the system has failed these unfortunate souls; that prison was never intended to be a state hospital or treatment center, but sadly that is what they have become. Sheriff Greg Hamilton of Travis County in Austin Texas is quoted stating “It seems that we have criminalized being mentally ill” Hamilton states that the lack of space in the hospitals has turned the jail into a default treatment center. The jails prisons just do not have the money, resources, and staff to handle the growing population. Doctors argue that even putting someone who has a slight mental illness such as depression,  in a regular jail they only get worse, being locked up for twenty two to twenty three hours a day; only makes the prisoners metal state worse. 

Researchers believe that jail diversion options such as drug court, mental health courts, and assignments to mental health probation; will help keep the mentally ill out of the general prison population, give them the proper health care they need and deserve all while protecting the people in our communities. Psychiatric programs to help the mentally ill enter back into the community are a necessity to help keep them from returning to jail or prison. Training police officers to be able to recognize the mentally ill is key to keeping them out of jail and into the emergency room or psychiatric center where they need to be to get the proper treatment for their behavior.



  1. Good post. I think the system of incarceration in this country has taken over the role of mental health institutions in many ways. This is problematic because they simply are not equipped to handle those with significant mental illnesses. If you think about it, it is no surprise that programs within the correctional system are underfunded and close to non-existent. It is not politically feasible to advocate for such programs. Could you imagine Obama or one of the Republican candidates saying they want to help crazy felons? Of course not. The political reality of situations like this make us less safe not more so. If we are not reforming the mentally ill then what are prisons but temporary residencies for people who are bound to recommit crime?

  2. I find it sad to think about how many people are locked up in prison that are mentally ill. I believe that we need more programs to help the mentally ill but unfortunately in the state of Illinois they are wanting to close two mental health hospitals. Where are the people that would normally go there for treatment going to end up? In our already over crowded prisons because there is no other place for these people.

  3. Interesting post! I agree with Jen on her post. I find it both scary and sad to realize how many inmates are considered to be mentally ill, and not given the proper help, and programs they need and deserve. I find it extremely scary that the majority of these particular inmates will be paroled back into society. The mentally ill often times aren't aware of their behaviors and may lash out again once they are released from the institution. Also, I dont agree with closing the mental health hospitals. I know that the state is broke, but I feel that keeping the mental facilites open is a must, in order for them to get the proper help they need.

  4. This is definitely an issue that the criminal justice system needs to look more into. In many classes, we hear countless stories about mistreatment of those with mental disabilities while they are in prison. Like the post said, I believe something like drug courts or mental health courts would have a much more positive outcome for those with mental illness. An excuse that is continuously used is that there is not enough money to help those with mental illness. If something is not done soon, more and more mentally ill will get placed into prison and that is the last thing that they need. When those with mental illness are released, they are in a worse place then when they were initially incarcerated. This will only lead them to recidivate back into the prison systems. This cycle is going to continue until the criminal justice system determines a way to solve the issue.