Mental illness is not a crime. However, we punish citizens that have mental illness with arrest, jail, and even prison sentences.
It is not the fault of our police or correctional professionals.
Officers are Not-Mental Health Care Providers
Officers respond to a call for service for a disorderly person, and when the officers have contact with the person in question the suspect’s behavior escalates to the point officers have to make an arrest. Now the correctional officer/deputy and staff have to manage and care for the mentally ill prisoner in the local jail.
The broken mental health care system has placed our officers in an unfair situation, and the only solution is to make a criminal arrest and this starts the criminal justice process.
The criminal justice system design is for accountability of behavior and this becomes punishment in lieu of mental health care treatment for the mentally ill.
The Broken Mental Health Care System
“Mental health is often missing from public health debates even though it’s critical to wellbeing”….Diane Abbott
We have a broken mental health care system in American. The largest mental health care provide in our nation is our jails and prisons.
According to Glaze and James (2006) three (3) out of four (4) female inmates in the state department of corrections, 64% of all inmates in city and county jails, 56% of all state prisoners in the department of corrections, and 45% of inmates in the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) display symptoms of mental illness or have previous documented history of mental illness.
These numbers of mentally ill people in our criminal justice system should be alarming and a call for action.
Our correctional departments absorbed the mental health care patients with government defunding of deinstitutionalization state managed psychiatric facilities during the 1970s. People with mental health illness had no place to go. Therefore, without required treatment they found themselves in the criminal justice system and ultimately the department of corrections.
Changing Society Perceptions of Mental Illness
There is a stigma in our society when it comes to discussing mental illness and a lack of political leadership and courage to help solve the problem.
With the recent publicized acts of violence committed by people reportedly who are mentally ill, and the need to care for our military and first responders struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the public opinion of mental health care issues is igniting a long overdue national debate on mental illness.
Mentally ill people need professional help by qualified mental health care providers.
Treatment rather than punishment places us in a position to provide humane and responsible solutions while providing security. Reducing the number of mentally ill people incarcerated is a social justice issue and we need leadership from our elected officials to bring change.
Locking-up mentally ill people in a system not designed to treat mental illness is barbaric and inhumane because the mentally ill prisoners continually fall victim and abused by the most dangerous and violent prisoner predators instead of receiving medical treatment in an institution designed to treat mental illness.
Mental illness is not a crime in American. We need to protect our citizens who need treatment and not warehouse them out of sight without proper mental health care.
Glaze, L. E., & James, D. J. (2006, September 6). Mental health problems of prison and jail inmates (BJS Publication No. NCJ 213600). Retrieved from U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics: http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/mhppji.pdf
About the Author
Mark Bond worked in law enforcement and has been a firearms trainer for more than 30 years. His law enforcement experience includes the military, local, state, and federal levels as a police officer and criminal investigator. Mark obtained a BS and MS in Criminal Justice, and M.Ed in Educational Leadership with Summa Cum Laude Honors. Mark has a Doctor of Education (Ed.D) with a concentration in college teaching and learning. Mark is currently an assistant professor of criminal justice at a university and adjunct professor of administration of justice studies at a community college.