Right now in the United States we have a problem, a big problem, we have hit a brick wall on how to handle the mentally ill in our country. The current “system” is the product of having “no official system” in place. It was created in a void, and out of necessity, and it’s ill constructed concept looks more like “winging it” than proper planning. Our countries seriously mentally ill seem to be filtered between three places in an endless loop of heartache, wasted money, and destroyed lives. In the US a person living with serious mental illness will spend their life rotating between the revolving doors of short term treatment facilities, jails & prisons, and homelessness.
Theories abound that we need to reinstall a revamped version of our old system providing more state psychiatric facilities that could handle persons who are living with serious mental illness as we have had in the past. The problem is that people were often neglected, abused and cared for in inhumane ways due to understaffed or underfunded facilities. They became, as have the jails, just a place to warehouse people that society views as dangerous or unacceptable. There wasn’t a push to treat or rehabilitate people. They became a leach attached to the state, draining it of resources and never producing any beneficial results other than keeping the mentally ill quarantined away from society.
Flash forward 40 years and the same system seems to still be here, it’s just changed addresses and moved to the judicial system. There is little focus of treatment or rehabilitation in the judicial system. It is more a system to stabilize a defendant in order to be competent to stand trial, afterwards there is little done to promote a plan of rehabilitation for reentry into society upon release. The judicial system is one of stabilization. Stabilization for trials and stabilization for incarceration to avoid altercations or behavioral issues. There is little to no effort to actually rehabilitate persons so that future incarceration is not necessary. In fact, without continued treatment, it almost becomes certain.
I’ve always been a fan of using what you already have to build something new. Currently we have a broken system that however does hold some useful resources. Could we not build a bridge between the two systems that focuses on treatment and rehabilitation not just stabilization? I believe if we created a new way to care for the mentally ill, without the need for automatic commitment to a psychiatric facility or incarceration, one that married the two together we could actually save millions of dollars and help people have better lives. By just fine tuning and readjusting what we already have, we could allocate the financial means by redirecting the funds used to incarcerate mentally ill inmates into rehabilitate them on the outside, via a mental health probationary system.
Currently in some areas Mental Health Courts divert some of the mentally ill into treatment verses incarceration, this is a step forward. What if we employed a Mental Health Probation Office system. Where those that have broken the law because of mental illness, are diverted to a system that allows them to continue to live with family BUT allows the court the legal right to intervene should the persons mental health deteriorate or they refuse to follow certain probationary requirements (taking prescribed medications, attending therapy, meeting with mental health probation officers).
This would give the judicial system a means of holding accountability over said parties to protect them and others, while removing the financial responsibility of housing and caring for them. It would also allow the mentally ill the ability to cope with and care for their illness in a way that would lessen the risk for future incidents because studies show the current system of solitary confinement within prison leads to deteriorated mental states not beneficial ones. Incarceration tends to exasperate current issues and make them worse. This then becomes a dog chasing its tail, leading to future incarcerations.
This would also give the family of the person with mental illness an advocate to contact should they notice the loved ones mental health deteriorating. So many absolute tragedies could have been avoided if families had someone to call other than 911 when they noticed strange behavior. Why do we have to wait until a person is hurting themselves or others? Right now that seems to be our only option. Why couldn’t we have a proactive system, where someone legally has the right to go and check on someone when the family calls to report the first signs crisis is about to occur? It would be wonderful to pick up the phone and dial a persons probation officer and say “My son has stopped going to work. He told me he feels like the neighbors are out to get him and he just threw out all of his belongings. I think he is not taking his meds” and then that officer had the legal right to go and check on him. If the person has started to slip off into psychosis then the officer has the ability to intervene and get them the help they need BEFORE something terrible happens.
This would save the system money. Right now it costs the state of Florida $130.00 a day to keep a person with serious mental illness incarcerated compared to $80.00 a day for a non-mentally ill inmate. Some estimates show that it can cost tens of thousands more and in some cases double the cost of incarceration. A Mental Health Probation Officer would cost less per year to employ than the incarceration of only one inmate and could possibly serve 10 to 20 times that amount of mentally ill on the outside of cell walls. Most importantly, that service would produce beneficial long term results. It is on the outside of cell walls that the mentally ill will have a chance at rehabilitation, inside the solitary confinement of jail or prison their mental health deteriorates even further. On the outside they can learn to live with their illness with an accountability to a higher authority, it’s a win/win for the person and the judicial system.
The true tragedy in almost every single horrific story I read about someone with serious mental illness either taking their own life or the life of others is there was always a period beforehand that either the person or the family sought help…and found none. I don’t believe the answer is locking them up and throwing away the key. Many can live a good life if given the right medications and regular psychiatric care. I’m a realest, I understand there are exceptions to this rule, and there should be long term psychiatric care facilities for those that do not respond to this type of open accountability based treatment. But I do not feel it is necessary to treat all mentally ill like they are that exception to the rule. Punishing people for having an illness seems cruel and inhumane.
Bridging the gap between the one who suffers from serious mental illness, the legal system, treatment options, and the persons family would eliminate most of the ill effects of the current broken system. America has hidden our mentally ill away for a very long time. Our dirty little secret has been aired on the International scene in recent years as the UN will not extradite mentally ill people to the US because they believe our treatment of them would be inhumane and borders on crimes against humanity.
I know what is being proposed would take work. The sooner we start the more money and lives we could save. I feel passionate about this subject because my own paranoid schizophrenic son has been caught in this broken system. During his first psychosis we utilized the existing resources, and now my son sits in jail awaiting trial for “Attempted Murder w/ Weapon” this carries a life sentence. His weapon, a comb, and the incident happened while in a facility he was Baker Acted too. He was in the care of professional psychiatric staff who did not care for him properly. My sons life has been rerouted because of schizophrenia. Instead of planning his wedding he sits in a jail cell in solitary confinement 24 hours a day, he currently has no bail. My son is not alone, this system is not designed for people who have these types of illness, and criminally punished them for symptoms they have no voluntary control over. Asking an unmedicated and undiagnosed schizophrenic to maintain cognitive control over his actions is like demanding a paraplegic to walk.
My Paranoid Schizophrenic Sons Tragic First Psychosis : https://thewayonline.wordpress.com/2017/12/23/elliotts-story-a-living-nightmare-of-first-psychosis/
We as a country need to start having an open conversation about how we address those in our society who deal with serious mental illness. We can no longer hide them in the dark recesses of prisons as we have been doing for almost half a century. The advent of the Internet makes that impossible. There are too many families of incarcerated loved ones who are now openly speaking out about the human rights abuses this system enables. My friend Pamela Wooden’s son Christopher was shot four times in his front yard only after being tazed and pepper sprayed by Indiana Police. His crime? He was trying to kill himself. My friend Gemma Pennas’ son Kristopher has spent ten years locked away and untreated. He spent two years in solitary confinement with no contact from family, denied visitation privileges for being “too ill”. In that time he ripped his own penis off. I read about Bertram Hiscock, the Berkeley Graduate in English Literature who choked to death on his own feces while locked in a suicide cell. This is cruel and unusual punishment.
Slowly as we gain the courage to speak out, it is being brought to light. We need to sit down and have a conversation about how to improve this archaic and barbaric prison “rehabilitation” of the mentally ill. Rehabilitation methods like “hot showers” that ended in the death of a Darren Rainey a 51 year old schizophrenic in Florida after he was left in a nearly 200 Degree shower for two hours and literally cooked to death. This is not OK. This is far from OK. Maybe this conversation will be uncomfortable for some, maybe there are skeletons in closets some want to remain hidden, but in this day and age that is no longer possible. There is however a way to make a much brighter future that we can be proud of for our nations mental health policies regarding the Serious Mentally Ill in our country. The dark ages are over, we all need to unify forces to fix this system. From the White House downward, we should not be at enmity with each other, we can accomplish much more if we all work together.
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