Thursday, August 30, 2012

Crazy People in Jail - Mental Health and Criminal Justice

I’m glad that title got your attention. Now that you’re here…

I’m watching “Jail” and they just arrested this girl for failure to show up to court on a prostitution charge. She barely looks 18 and it was obvious to me (and to the arresting officer, thank God) that she has some kind of mental issue. This just made me think about all the individuals with mental diseases who don’t have medical coverage and can’t afford the proper medical attention and/or medication they need. Some of these people go on to commit violent crimes that, had they been on the proper medication or under the supervision of a physician, they never would have committed. There are others (possibly like this girl I just saw on TV) who are influenced and abused by people who only have their own interest in mind and couldn’t care any less about who they are taking advantage of.
As if that’s not sad enough, what happens after these people are arrested is even sadder. They are thrown in jail without proper medical attention and are expected to be able to function and follow orders. When you have a mental disease, you cannot be scared into or forced to follow orders. It is the disease that caused you to commit the harm in the first place! What makes you think they can surmise that they should listen to a corrections officer if they can't figure out that shouldn't have killed/robbed/attacked the victim? If a person has cancer or a broken arm, they are taken to see a medical professional to fix the problem, right? So if a person has a mental disease doesn’t logic dictate that they should receive treatment as well? Yes… I know. You’re thinking that there are so many people who claim to have a mental problem just to try to get out of their situation. But there are folks with a HISTORY of mental illness who don’t get what they should and DO have a right to!

According to the School of Social Work at the University of Washington, about 1 in 4 adults experience a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. This can be anything from depression to schizophrenia, for example. About 1 in 17 people experience a serious mental illness. Just under half of the people who experience a mental disorder actually experience 2 or more.
Please understand, I’m not saying that people who have murdered or raped or carjacked or whatever should get off light. No! What I’m saying is, let’s address the bigger issue here. Mental health courts are designed to take a different approach with defendants who have mental health issues. They typically have a designated judge and possibly a designated prosecutor & defense attorney. Their purpose is to work together to come up with a treatment plan that will address the specific needs of the defendant while still protecting the public.

A study was done to see whether or not this process would reduce recidivism and violent offenses in individuals who were arrested for a crime and found to have a mental disease.* What it showed was that the likelihood of released participants of mental health court being charged with any new crimes was 26% lower than that of individuals who did not receive treatment. And the likelihood of these treated individuals to be charged with a violent crime: 55% lower than individuals who were not treated!!
What does this tell us? Recidivism would be greatly reduced if we didn’t just lock people up then spit them back out in the street when they have finished serving their sentence. Not only that but it’s obvious that the number of crimes committed by these individuals, especially those of the violent kind, would be greatly reduced if they are properly treated!
If you like to look at things from the “what would I get out of this” angle, well, besides the fact that the chances of you becoming the victim of a crime committed by someone with a mental illness will shrink, there will be less people thrown in jail whose livelihood you sustain through your taxes!

* Dale E. McNiel & Renée L. Binder, Effectiveness of a Mental Health Court in Reducing Criminal Recidivism and Violence, The American Journal of Psychiatry (September 1, 2007).


  1. I am unconvinced that there are an abundance of "bad" people in our world. There are people who have had to bring themselves up in the absence of parents who cared; there are people who were given up upon by schools at an early age; there are kids lost in the terror of not amicable divorce; there are kids physically and sexually abused. I believe that criminal behavior is learned in bad homes, in poverty, in abuse and in indifference...all these factors contribute to mental illness and court involvement. I have seen reparative justice work where offenders are dealt with by community panels that being bring offenders and victims together, to understand and to fix.
    I do not believe that genetically based mental illness is effected by this approach...there may be other effective therapies, i.e. medication, etc. Some people are just bad...they are a small minority.

  2. I'm not sure where you stand, Phil. The first paragraph confuses me a little.

    But in regards to what I wrote, I am in no way implying that I believe all offenders should have the opportunity to go through the process this way. Some people ARE just bad! For whatever reason...childhood (don't they always point to this?!), a bad experience, peer pressure...they choose to commit the crime. I'm just saying that if those that actually had a mental disorder were put in front of a judge in a mental health court, meaning someone who hasn't been so jaded by the sort of folks that usually get put in front of him or her that he just wants to "throw the book" at everyone,the defendant may have a real chance of becoming a productive citizen. Isn't that what the ultimate goal of the penal system should be? Recidivism is expensive!!

  3. Sorry, by some people are just bad I mean that they are sociopaths ..Martha Stout, PhD from Harvard in "The Sociopath Next Door" estimates that 1 in 25 are sociopaths (half genetically based, half environmentally based) and incapable of remorse. Yes, criminals and mentally ill and not amenable to therapy as most character disorders are not. This is what I meant by innately bad. I could be wrong and in many cases I am...just my thoughts!

  4. Your thoughts are always appreciated & welcomed!!

  5. hi where did you get the info from the statistics "...crimes was 26% lower than that of individuals who did not receive treatment. And the likelihood of these treated individuals to be charged with a violent crime are 55% lower than individuals.."???

    1. I based this particular post on the following study:
      * Dale E. McNiel & Renée L. Binder, Effectiveness of a Mental Health Court in Reducing Criminal Recidivism and Violence, The American Journal of Psychiatry (September 1, 2007).