\’Criminalizing the Most Vulnerable\’: Should the mentally ill be behind bars?


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In the United States, prisons and jails are one of the largest providers of mental health care in the country. For decades, people with mental illness have been overrepresented in prisons and jails as about 2 in 5 people who are incarcerated have a history of mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Those people don\’t belong in jails or prisons, Azza AbuDagga, a health researcher for Public Citizen, told Yahoo News. Our research [from 2016] showed that county jails were turned into dumping grounds for people with severe mental illness due to the failing mental health system.

Civil rights leaders and advocates are highlighting the impact of putting people with mental illnesses behind bars.

Most recently, in May, the family of Lashawn Thompson, a black man who was held in the Fulton County Jail and suffered from schizophrenia, released the results of an independent autopsy. According to the family autopsy, Thompson received no treatment before he was found eaten alive by bed bugs and insects last September.

In March, the death of Irvo Otieno, a 28-year-old black man who died while recovering at a mental health facility in Virginia, sparked outrage, and 10 people were charged with second-degree murder over his death.

Irvo Otieno did NOT deserve to be choked to death when he needed help with a mental health crisis! He is not the first and probably won\’t be the last person with a mental illness to be brutally victimized by the police, lawyer Ben Crump said on Twitter.

Three days before Otieno\’s death, 31-year-old Najee Seabrooks was shot and killed by police in Paterson, NJ after calling 911 during a mental health crisis.

Incidents like this and others have caused leaders to question whether prisons and jails are equipped to adequately care for people with mental illnesses, especially for Black Americans, who are 2.9 times more likely than whites to be killed by mental illness. police.

It should be alarming for people to realize that we are not handling mental health crises with support, care and compassion. We\’re running it with trauma, violence and even casualties, Zellie Thomas, lead organizer of the Black Lives Matter chapter in Paterson, told Yahoo News in March after Otieno\’s death.

Because there is debate

With 1 in 5 American adults living with a mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, the debate about mental health behind bars continues to escalate. But not everyone agrees with the statement that inmates who are mentally ill and incarcerated don\’t get the resources or help they need.

In my opinion, and from experience, they are getting good mental health care, Charles Lee, president of the American College of Correctional Physicians and former medical director at a maximum-security prison in California, told Yahoo News. Many of them receive no outside mental health care, [and] there are a fair number of people who are homeless, have no insurance, or are, for whatever reason, not seeking mental health care.

Some say that if a mentally ill person commits a crime, he must serve his sentence behind bars. But in many cases, people with severe mental illness end up in jails and jails for the same kinds of symptoms they could easily have [landed] they ended up in psychiatric hospitals or nursing homes, Christine Montross, an associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University, told Yahoo News.

Even as proponents say incarceration isn\’t the answer for the mentally ill, critics are wondering where else they would go. There aren\’t enough community mental health facilities and that\’s across the country, Lee said. More than a third of Americans live in areas that lack mental health facilities and services.

While there\’s no immediate fix, advocates say the bottom line is that US prisons weren\’t built with the mentally ill in mind.

There are all kinds of factors that complicate the treatment someone might receive once behind bars. People serving time in jails and jails are less well off psychologically, just by virtue of living in these dehumanizing conditions, Montross said.

What\’s next

In April, Democratic Senator Jon Ossoff of Georgia launched an inquiry into prison conditions following the deaths of Thompson and Joshua McLemore, an Indiana prisoner who allegedly suffered from malnutrition and dehydration before being found dead in his cell .

The Justice Department has an affirmative obligation to safeguard the civil rights of incarcerated individuals, whether they are held in federal, state or local custody, Ossoff wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland.

California Governor Gavin Newsom recently announced efforts in his state to modernize the Mental Health Services Act and request a $1 billion annual grant for behavioral health accommodations and care for people with mental illness.

This is the next step in our transformation of how California addresses mental illness, substance use disorders and homelessness by creating thousands of new beds, building more housing, expanding services and more. People who are struggling with these issues, especially those who are on the streets or in other vulnerable conditions, will have more resources to get the help they need, Newson said in a news release.

But Thomas says immediate changes to the mental health system for inmates are needed. Until America realizes that the police are failing people going through a mental health crisis, they will be able to continue creating more hashtags, he said.


Drowning in a mental health crisis

I think prosecutors are drowning. I think the defense attorneys are drowning. I think the justice system is drowning in a mental health crisis. This is not just a problem. It\’s a crisis. Clayton County District Attorney Tasha Mosley at Fox5 News.

The mentally ill face dehumanizing conditions

Reports from prisons across the country, from Rikers in New York to the main Santa Clara County Jail Complex in San Jose, California, have shown that the mentally ill are often abused. The families have filed lawsuits alleging that correctional officers severely beat the mentally ill, or left them to starve or freeze to death, Christopher Blackwell, an incarcerated writer, told The New York Times.

Can the police respond adequately to people with mental illness?

The workout [for a correctional officer] it really suggests that you should take control, you should stay in control, and when you feel like a situation or person is spiraling out of control, the response is to escalate. For a person with a mental illness, particularly one who is paranoid, this is absolutely terrifying. It\’s terrifying for anyone. It\’s meant to be scary, but to a person with a mental illness it\’s incomprehensibly terrifying, and so the result is often that the person with a mental illness responds in exactly the opposite way… by attacking or by fighting, Alisa Roth, author of Criminal Treatment of mental illness in the Americas, at NPR.

Mental health and the criminal justice system go hand in hand

America has been without a proper mental health care system for so long that mental illness is often seen as a permanent feature of the criminal justice system. In many prisons and jails, the pressing question is not how to reduce this growing population, but how to build bigger and better psychiatric units and treatment facilities within the walls. Alisa Roth, the Atlantic.

Caring for mentally ill inmates is costly for correctional facilities

Mental health problems are rampant in local jails, often because illness was a primary factor in the offending conduct. The cost of caring for and supervising mentally ill inmates makes them two to three times more expensive to house. Once released, they often stop taking their drugs, which gets them in trouble with the law and back behind bars, Editorial, New York Times

Criminalize the most vulnerable

This sixty-year-old problem of criminalizing the most vulnerable segment of our society will continue to get worse unless it is taken seriously by public officials at all levels. It is morally unacceptable to continue to ignore it. Primarily screening programs that prevent the demise of people with serious mental illness [up] in the legal system they are absolutely necessary. In addition, diversion programs are urgently needed to channel these people into the community where they can receive adequate care and supportive services. Azza AbuDagga, health researcher for Public Citizen, at Yahoo News.

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