NAMI warns Senate about rising criminalization of mentally ill

“A sick thought can devour the body’s flesh more than fever or consumption.”

– Guy de Maupassant (Le Horla et autres contes fantastiques)

This quote aptly explains the suffering of the victims of various mental illnesses who may always feel exhausted without understanding the reason behind it. Every single day, they are fighting a war in their heads. And a shocking number of them end up in various prisons in the United States.

A report, titled “The Treatment of Persons with Mental Illness in Prisons and Jails: A State Survey,” prepared by the Treatment Advocacy Center and published in 2014 emphasized on the need of treating mentally ill people. It stated that the root cause of their rising numbers behind the bars is attributed to the non-stop closure of state psychiatric hospitals and the inability of mental health officials in providing the necessary aftercare for those treated in jails.

While the criminal justice system in America is unable to provide the unique set of circumstances and skills which mentally ill patients need, mental health courts have come up in almost every state in the country as an alternative to imprisonment. People charged with offences are screened for possible mental health disorders and then sent for judicially supervised treatment as an alternative to the much criticized policy of incarceration.

NAMI calls for support to overcome flaws in mental healthcare

Stressing on the need for the much needed healing process for those suffering from mental disorder, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) warned the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in February 2016 that the practice of charging mentally ill people with criminal offences has reached “crisis proportions.” It called for support at the federal, state and local levels to overcome the flaws that exist in the country’s mental healthcare and criminal justice systems.

A written testimony by NAMI senior policy advisor Ronald S. Honberg to a committee hearing on “Breaking the Cycle: Mental Health and the Justice System” included NAMI’s support of S.2002, the Mental Health and Safe Communities Act of 2015. S.2002 was introduced in the U.S. Senate on August 5, 2015 by Senator John Cornyn of Texas. The bill amends the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 to authorize the Department of Justice (DOJ) to award grants for:

  • Mental health programs and related law enforcement and corrections programs;
  • State compliance with federal mental health records requirements;
  • Court-ordered assisted outpatient treatment;
  • Pretrial screening and supervision;
  • Behavioral health assessments and intervention;
  • Forensic assertive community treatment; and
  • Establishment of a National Criminal Justice and Mental Health Training and Technical Assistance Center.

The bill also emphasizes on the need for allocation of grants and funds to be used for various existing programs.

Putting mentally ill in recovery centers helps save costs

Mental health recovery advocates stress on the basic premise that mental illness is not a choice, while recovery is. According to a report by the Treatment Advocacy Center, American jails had approximately 356,268 inmates with several mental illnesses in 2012. Due to inadequate community treatment plans and decreasing capacity of mental health hospitals in America, mentally ill people are often thrown behind the bars.

Medical practitioners said that psychiatric symptoms tend to worsen during the period of detention and the cost incurred in making treatment accessible to mentally ill patients is two to three times greater than that of other inmates. Psychologists argue that diversion from the process of confinement to mental health recovery centers saves costs and has a civilizing effect on people.

Road to recovery

The fact that intervention and its implementation at the federal level will lower the percentage of accused relapsing into their previous criminal behavior and allow people a fair chance to lead productive lives must not be ignored. The ‘i’ of illness needs to be replaced with ‘we’ to initiate a journey from illness to wellness.

If you or your loved one is battling any mental illness, do not keep it to yourself. Seek professional help to get rid of your problem. Take the first step towards a joyful life and call 24/7 Mental Health Helpline today. To consult one of our mental health specialists, please call our helpline at 855-653-8178 or chat online.