August 13, 2007

Efforts to De-Criminalize Mental Illness

As we've covered many times here - the extremely poor treatment of the mentally ill in the US is unprecedented, with over 300,000 people with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder currently locked up in US jails. With any other medical disorder people are given treatment by hospitals, but with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses, people are too frequently given jail sentences for minor legal infractions.

Books have been written about this problem (see this entry: "Crazy"), and now Time magazine has a good article about this growing problem:

Just ask Mike, 31, who knows firsthand. Mike suffers from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression. Since the age of 17, the Los Angeles native has been repeatedly arrested during psychosis for nuisance crimes like disturbing the peace, only to serve his time, fall off his medication and get arrested again....Though he is receiving treatment, rising health care costs and declining federal help mean Mike will likely end up in jail again.

The good news is that things are starting to get a little better. As Time mentions "Most police officers aren't trained to deal with people suffering from severe mental illness. But because they are the first to respond to calls involving psychiatric crises, police are in a unique position to fix the crippled system. That effort is now underway, thanks to Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT), which are being adopted by a growing number of police departments across the country."

We encourage you to get involved to help drive improvements in this area forward - by working with political groups that advocate for improved treatment of the mentally ill (and not just larger jails), and groups like NAMI who are trying also to improve that situation.

Read the full story: De-Criminalizing Mental Illness

Additional Information:

The Connecticut Alliance to Benefit Law Enforcement - initiators of the CIT programs.


As a parent of an adult child (barely 18) who carries a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder and who is now in jail for a manifestation of his disability, I am horrified at the use of the justice system to cover the non-compliant Mental Health system. This is a travesty of justice and a mis-use of the system.
For 18 years I worked hard to keep my son healthy only to have him reach the age of majority and the depths of disparity. Something is wrong with this picture......

Posted by: rustysmom at August 15, 2007 10:19 AM

I'd like to know what organizations are realllly doing their part to help with this problem?

I haven't had any run ins with groups that are set up for this purpose, or devote a lot of their efforts and time for this cause.

I never see any formal group step up in the media to support severally mentally ill people awaiting trials, supporting their families, and stepping out publicly on this issue.

In fact, it's almost the opposite where they feel the need to publicly state that it's not the norm for mentally ill to end up in prison or be violent. Almost like they are saying a schiz. off his meds, and lost in their illness is not an excuse if they commit a crime.

I'm just at my witts end by the reality of how many schiz's and bi polar people are being sent to jail and prison when they need to be in mental hosp.'s.

There should be an outrage in the community, but it seems as though no one wants to step up and speak outloud about it.

If a physical illness, in which the patient isn't taking medication they need, were to cause (in some cases) them to commit a crime I can GUARANTEE you that they wouldn't end up in prisons.

Simply because we cannot SEE the PROOF of the illness and its effects on SOME severally mentally ill, then somehow that means it isn't valid or that they are faking it?!

I'm at a loss...truly I am.

And please note, this isn't directed towards this website. Rather the collective mental health community at large.

Posted by: Nell at November 30, 2007 11:40 PM

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