The United States has taken many strides to adequately defend and prosecute mentally ill offenders, but some still fall through the cracks of the legal system and do not get the help that they truly need. Mental illness is a serious medical dilemma with severe social implications. Individuals that are mentally ill and receive help for their illness can become functioning members of society and those that do not receive help often commit crimes either unknowingly or as a part of their mental disorder itself. Texas in general struggles to provide the help that mentally ill offenders seriously need.
Some forms of mental illness are minor and some are severe, but either way treatment is necessary regardless of whether it is administered inside or outside of the criminal justice system. There are now far more persons with mental illness in our nation’s jails and prisons than in state mental hospitals. See Michael Winerip, Bedlam on the Streets, N. Y. TIMES MAGAZINE (May 23, 1999). A September 2006 Department of Justice report stated that as of mid-2005 “more than half of all prison and jail inmates had a mental health problem, including 705,600 inmates in State prisons, 78,800 in Federal prisons, and 479,900 in local jails. ” Doris J.
James and Lauren E. Glaze, Mental Health Problems of Prison and Jail Inmates, U. S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics (Sept. 2006). “In Texas, one study revealed that 30% of state prison jail inmates are also logged in the state’s public mental health database, with approximately 10% of all inmates having a diagnosis of serious mental illness that would be considered in the “priority population” for receipt of public mental health services” (Shannon & Bensen, 2008). There are more individuals incarcerated in Texas state prisons with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia than in the general population by ratio and percentage.
“The rate of incidence of persons with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder (manic depression), and major depression within the jail and prison population is four times that of the general population. See Fox Butterfield, By Default, Jails Become Mental Institutions, N. Y. TIMES (March 5, 1998). And, “[o]ne in every 8 State prisoners was receiving some mental health therapy or counseling services at midyear 2000” and close to “10% were receiving psychotropic medications” for treatment of mental illnesses” (Shannon & Bensen, 2008).
There are multiple different types of mental illness including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, personality disorders, and anxiety disorders. All of these mental illnesses are treatable, but not curable; therefore, some of these mental illnesses should require supervised living situations so that the individuals do not harm themselves or others, however as of today the law states that individuals with severe mental illness have the right to live and care for themselves on their own without supervision.
When the supervised living situations are not provided it is highly likely that some of the individuals with these disorders will harm themselves or others because they discontinue their treatment. Mental illness is prevalent in modern day society and it can at times lead to deviant behavior, especially from those with severe mental disorders. Some of these individuals with severe mental illness believe that imaginary people speak to them. Some of these delusions and manifested mental disorders lead to these voices and beings telling these individuals to do things that healthy people would deem as morally corrupt.
Individuals such as Andrea Yates of Texas, Richard Chase and James Holmes in the Aurora, Colorado killings have murdered individuals due to mental illness. A recent example of this would be the shooting that occurred on December 14th, 2012 in Connecticut. A young man entered a school and murdered 20 kindergartners and 5 adults after he murdered his mother in his home. People generally do not commit such horrendous crimes without having some sort of mental illness, although a motive is yet to be discovered in this case. Research has shown that offenders have higher rates of mental illness than the general community.
“The Criminology Research Council commissioned a study to assess the level of screening and the instruments used across the jurisdictions by criminal justice agencies. Based on interviews and relevant documentation, the researchers found that, although assessment occurs in all jurisdictions and sectors, there is little consistency in the way offenders are assessed” (Ogloff, Davis, Rivers, & Ross, 2006). Situations such as the failure to treat, or identify, mental illness leads to recidivist offenders and also to more crime in society.
Mental illness is a key area in deviance. The societal reaction perspective suggests that many patients are labeled into being mentally ill, which could be accurate, but it’s probably much more common with people receiving fashionable diagnoses like multiple personality disorder or other personality disorders (Vandenburgh, 2004). Individuals that are mentally ill and are unaware of their defective mental states that end up in the American justice system have the opportunity to be rehabilitated.
Deviance is typically located in specific actions of individuals. “One is a deviant generally but in specific areas of life such as sex, drug use, politics, harming others, and so on. The label of mental disordered is almost unique in that it is free floating, eminently generalizable. One is considered mentally disordered not because of having done anything in a delimited area of life but because one has done many things in many areas that are supposedly manifestations of a psychiatric disorder, dysfunction or disorganization” (Goode, 2011).
Speculation can be made that by enforcing programs to aid in medical treatment and institutionalization of mental health criminals for the purpose of getting them well and rehabilitative achievement, that society would decrease the amount of individuals with mental health needs in the justice system. This speculation could prove largely accurate given current statistical analysis and the ratio of those incarcerated with mental health issues and needs compared to the percentage of those not incarcerated.
“Youth crime is a serious social problem, as is the high proportion of young offenders in the juvenile justice systems that have mental disorders. A recent policy innovation applies the theory of therapeutic jurisprudence and diverts youth with mental disorders to treatment in lieu of further court processing. The expansion of mental health diversion programs reflects an increasingly popular view that there is a causal relationship between youth mental disorders and crime.
Policymakers who share this view place greater emphasis on rehabilitation and treatment as a way to reduce crime, rather than on stricter punishment” (Cuellar, McReynolds, & Wasserman, 2006). If the deviance that is being exhibited by criminals could be pin pointed by the enforcers and the rehabilitators of the individuals in our criminal justice system then it is possible that the deviant behavior could be changed and new forms of behavior and modern day morals can be taught.
There are many treatments that can be provided to criminals diagnosed with mental illness, and rehabilitation is an option, but we must reinforce morals into society to regain control of this growing epidemic. “If you have a mild mental illness with well-controlled symptoms, treatment from one health care provider may be sufficient. However, often a team approach is appropriate to make sure all your psychiatric, medical and social needs are met. This is especially important for severe mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia” (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2012).
Although mental illness is not curable there are treatments that the state can provide including medications to control or improve symptoms, psychotherapy (also known as talk therapy), brain stimulation treatments (shock therapy), and hospitalization and residential treatment programs. If the justice system begins with the root of the problem and finds treatment for mental health issues with juvenile offenders we can prevent the issue from becoming a larger problem later. “Youth in the Juvenile Justice System experience substantially higher rates of mental health disorders than youth in the general population.
This is a major conclusion drawn from 34 studies and is also consistent with the finding that mental illness prevalence rates in adult correction populations are two to four times higher than the rates in the general adult population” (Cocozza & Skowyra, 2000). The corrections system has become a new mental hospital, and the new treatment medium but does not offer the same treatment as a mental hospital so after sentences are served inmates with mental health issues are released back into the general population and most likely will return to prison within a few years, if not a few months.
“The juvenile justice system has largely shifted away from treatment and rehabilitation and toward retribution and punishments as the “get tough” movement swept the Nation during the 1990’s the decade has seen more youth transferred to criminal court, longer sentences, and lower minimum ages at which juveniles can be prosecuted within the justice system as if they were adults—all part of the “adultificiation” of juvenile justice” (Cocozza & Skowyra, 2000). Another issue that mental health patients in prison face is the fact that the correctional staff is ill equipped to deal with them.
Although staff of correctional officers in prisons may sympathize with the predicament of those with mental illness, the presence of other offenders makes it difficult for staff to make allowances for the cognitive and volitional limitations of the mentally ill. As a consequence, inmates with mental illness tend to receive more infractions than others, and spend disproportionate amounts of time in segregation or maximum security settings such as intensive management or control units (Lovell, David, Johnsoon, & Jemelka, 2001). This method can make controlling mental health issues a much more difficult task and can prove ineffective.
“Prisoners with mental health conditions are especially vulnerable to the difficult and sometimes deplorable conditions that prevail in jails, prisons and other correctional facilities. Overcrowding often contributes to inadequacy of mental health services and to ineffective classification and separation of prisoner classes. It can both increase vulnerability and exacerbate mental illnesses” (Mental Health America, 2012). Many correctional officers are not educated or adequately enough to deal with the numerous needs of prisoners with mental health issues that are incarcerated.
This leads to only one solution and that is to use physical force to make the prisoners behave in an acceptable manner in an effort to maintain order and cooperation within the prison and also to decrease disruption of the other prisoners. This method is not effective for the prisoners and only heightens the issue of distrust as well as makes treatment harder to achieve. It would be just as cost effective for treatment to be provided to criminals affected with mental health issues as it would be to incarcerate them for long periods of time.
If a criminal comes into the justice system with a mental health issue and leaves with the same issue it is more likely that he or she will become a recidivist offender costing American taxpayers millions of dollars annually. If we could provide the medications and treatment that criminal needs and induce a healthier way of thinking, then release them into the general population with resources for continuing treatment it would be less likely that he or she would become a recidivist offender.
There are however, people with mental illness that do not believe that they are mentally ill. When the mentally ill are released from prison they are left with the responsibility of their own treatment and many fail to continue their treatment plan leading to a relapse in their previously controlled mental state. Also, a revolving door cycle exists of released inmates doing well for the first month or two that they were free from behind bars and on their own and then relapsing only to end up back behind bars, because they are not responsible enough to self medicate.
The major issue is that many of the inmates are not being forced to take their medication even when released and they are not aware of their mental illness. Taking on any form of responsibility is an extreme challenge for the seriously mentally ill, especially when faced with the responsibility of handling their own mental healthcare. Many victims of mental illness do not believe that they are sick, or they know that they are sick and take their medication for short periods of time.
The reason for many mentally ill patients discontinuing the self administered medication is that they believe that after they begin feeling better, and stop having hallucinations or hearing voices that they are cured and do not need their medication anymore. As hard as the mentally ill attempt to curtail their mental health issues they simply are unable to do so. Without medication the illness will usually overcome an attempt at self control leading mental health patients to self destruction.
Mental health patients not believing that they are mentally ill coupled with refusal to take medication to control their mental illness or lack of medication availability is what leads to the self destruction and inevitably mental health patients end up dead or back behind bars. Deinstitutionalization in the 1970’s was one of the worst things to happen for mental health patients, but the most cost effective method for states. While states should not fund hospitals for all of the mentally ill, there should be some sort of humane program in place to assist with the mental health care that these patients need, specifically forced medication.
The bottom line is that our constitution and the laws that states have do not allow for the treatment of the seriously mentally ill, and this legislation desperately needs to change. There are laws giving every individual rights to choose the health care that they believe they need, however, as previously stated, the mentally ill do not believe that they need treatment, and this puts others in the community in danger as well as the mental health patient. A proposal for solution is to have a healthcare provider administer these medications daily by home visits.
It would be the same as a hospice nurse taking care of someone that is physically incapacitated. This will ensure that the mentally ill have a better chance at not relapsing and committing crimes. Along with the belief that they are healthy many of the prisoners that are paroled end up in homeless shelters. They lack the supervision and support system, along with the financial means that they need in order to maintain an effective treatment schedule, inevitably landing them back into the justice system for parole violation or new crimes committed.
The state cannot fund mental health facilities any longer, but the state could fund the aforementioned home visits at a lesser cost even if home is on a street corner. There should be a mandatory forced treatment plan for the seriously mentally ill so that they are not a danger to themselves or others. By releasing mentally ill patients onto the streets with the statistics and knowledge that we have we are putting innocent people in jeopardy and the mental health patients. We know that proper treatment can relieve and essentially eliminate symptoms of serious mental health problems, but it cannot cure them.
Without medication patients will inevitably have a guaranteed relapse We also know that more times than not when mental health patients are released from prison and given the responsibility of their own treatment they relapse because they discontinue their treatment. This is not speculation, but fact according to numerous statistical analysis and research studies. So why does our prison system insist on repeating the same ineffective cycle over and over again and leaving the revolving door open as well as costing tax payers millions of dollars? The revolving door cycle of inmates with mental health issues is no doubt ineffective.
In a state of complete psychosis a person is capable of harming people and often will act out. In the video “The Released,” a documentary of real inmates with real mental illness, there was a man searching for Osama Bin Laden. He believed that Bin Laden was hiding in a residential home and began to throw bricks at the windows and pound on the door. This mental state was induced because of lack of medication and it put an innocent person in harm’s way. There are also many scenarios mentioned in the same video of mentally ill persons robbing places especially pharmacies.
This also puts innocent people at risk. To release these individuals into mainstream society without forced medication is too much of a hazard to average citizens. It is not fair to the general population to have to worry about mental health patients walking the streets that are not medicated when preventative measures could easily be taken to prevent it. “Persons released from prison face a multitude of difficulties. They remain largely uneducated, unskilled, and usually without solid family support systems–to which are added the burdens of a prison record.
Not surprisingly, most parolees fail, and rather quickly–rearrests are most common in the first six months after release. Fully two-thirds of all those released on parole will be rearrested within three years. Parole failures now constitute a growing proportion of all new prison admissions. In 1980, parole violators constituted 18 percent of all admissions, but recent years have seen a steady increase to the point where they constituted 35 percent of all new admissions in 1997” [ (Petersilia, 2001) ]. Generally speaking mental disorders can lead to causing crimes.
These crimes should be focused on especially for the recidivist offenders in the justice system. If the individuals have a legitimate mental disorder that can be treated and then the individual can be rehabilitated and incorporated back into mainstream society as a cooperative and functioning citizen then the American justice system should keep a place for psychotherapy and psychoanalysis in the justice system. The mental health status of prisoners is an increasing problem in the United States and one that is not easily addressed.
The revolving door for mental health prisoners is an increasing issue because they are not given the supervision or resources that they truly need in order to decrease the rate of recidivism. Mental health patients lack the mental capacity needed to really be responsible for their own treatment which is the number one cause of relapse. With prisons becoming the new asylums and no end in sight the issue will continue for years unless reformations are made to stop the ongoing issue. References: Cocozza, J. , & Skowyra, K. (2000). Youth with Mental Health Disorders: Issues and Emerging Responses.
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