Imprison the Mentally Ill

I was having a discussion with a client who was creating a program to assist the homeless. Now, I have a particular view about the homeless, because my brother is responsible for helping many of the homeless in Washington D.C. Even with plenty of services, shelters, food, clothing and training offered to support them, you still see them sleeping in alleyways and panhandling on the street corners, or holding Will Work for Food signs at intersections.

Having the privilege of serving the State of Washington for over a decade in law enforcement (2 years in juvenile) I am (as well as all the other multitudes who support the law enforcement community are) aware that an uncomfortably large percentage of the criminal population consists of individuals with mental health issues, placing an inordinate strain on the legal system.

imprison-the-mentally-ill-criminalize-mental-health

The mentally ill, who do not have access to the necessary treatment and/or medications overpopulate the jails and prisons, as well as probation and parole systems, also contributing to the homeless population.

Though it may sound Hitleristic, we here in the United States forcibly sterilized over 30,000 mentally ill patients in the first 40 years of the 1900’s while they were incarcerated or in State mental hospitals as an approach to decreasing mental health issues over time.

Prior to 1960 just under 600,000 mentally ill patients were able to find the help they needed at State run mental hospitals. Over the next 40 years, State mental hospitals had kicked over 500,000 mentally ill patients to the curb. Now the legal system is left as the only available resource to deal with nearly 1 million sufferers of mental illness, basically criminalizing them for their respective conditions.

There exist many programs to assist the homeless… Why hasn’t it occurred to someone that the segment that is the most neglected – having access to the least amount of service or support – is not the homeless (though their numbers are often counted here), but the mentally ill?

In my opinion the crime is not mental illness, even though we prosecute, house and feed them in our jails and prisons, as they accumulate a rap sheet a mile long. No, the crime is forcing individuals with mental health issues to acclimate to the revolving door of our criminal justice system.

I am not convinced that having the State pick up the bill and expand their mental hospital services and facilities is the answer. I believe society has turned its back on those unable to adequately deal with their mental health issues and has forced them to be lumped in with the criminal element and I believe it is up to us to find – and provide – a solution to this growing problem.

There is indication that without a lengthy criminal history and institutionalization, that many of these suffering from lack of mental health treatment could become productive members of society if afforded the opportunity to engage in treatment and proper therapeutic intervention.

Yes, this would be an expensive undertaking, though I believe privatizing the care and treatment would be a more cost effective alternative than wasting 110-times as much by allowing State or Federal bureaucracies to deal with the problem.

I believe we – you and I – as well as our organizations, non-profits and churches could deal with this problem, creating an effective alternative for those dealing with mental health issues as an alternative to imprisonment, just as we are making progress with the issues of homelessness.

What do you think?

Innocent Prisoner Released After 18 Years

innocent prisoner released after 18 years

149 innocent prisoners who had served an average of 15 years behind prison walls were released last year

Unfortunately, this happens too often to believe it’s an anomaly; innocent men or women are convicted of crimes they did not commit, their lives are ruined as they are plucked from their families and society and imprisoned to rot away… Why? Because someone thought they were an undesirable, someone needed a scapegoat and the accused innocent did not have enough money to adequately defend themselves in court.

Thankfully it doesn’t happen every day, but it happens enough to make you wonder

How many innocent people are serving time in prison?

There is a lot of motivation to convict someone of a crime. Local law enforcement wants the community to feel safe and feel like they are effectively keeping their promise to serve and protect us. The more convictions the prosecution gets, the safer the community, and the more likely a prosecutor can promote.

We are part of the problem, too. If a crime has been committed that leaves us crying out for justice to be done, this adds pressure on law enforcement to find someone to offer up as the perpetrator of the crime. If not, how can any of us feel safe, knowing there is someone “out there” who could perpetrate a similar crime against us?

So, they ‘round up the usual suspects and seek out someone who meets certain criteria that will result in a likely conviction. The candidate usually has limited financial resources (will have to rely on a public defender), could have limited intelligence and/or social skills, has had some legal issues in the past (even if minor), and might be considered by peers (perspective jury) as an undesirable. Making for a perfect conviction cocktail.

Even if wrongly accused, we are satisfied and feel safer knowing that someone is behind bars who “committed” this crime, as we light our torches and shout out, “kill the monster,” as if we were characters in the climax of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Then there are the other types of crimes that are committed, even harder to prove, because the details are vague, evidence is lacking, there are few witnesses, but still the crime is grisly enough that we want to see someone incarcerated for the crime; even if the crime did not actually take place.

Local Police Catch and Release

Catch and release is a policy demonstrated by local police departments whereby they respond to a call or question a pedestrian and can be compelled to find a  reason to detain the individual, especially if the person appears to have a low income or mental health status. The individual is booked and released as soon as an audience with a judge has been arranged. The individual's just happy to be out and not convicted of something they didn't do.

But they are now in the system, just in case their character comes into question when associated with some other crime in the future.

Poor Man’s Revenge

This is how the dregs of society use (or abuse) the system to execute revenge on someone else within arm’s reach of their position in society at no cost. Simply accuse the person of some wrongdoing of a criminal act, have a compelling story to tell that will enrage the community, be capable and willing to lie on the stand under oath and you could get your free revenge served up by our legal system with a smile.

We’re likely to convict someone we don’t particularly care for. If nothing else, our communities look better with those who make little contribution to society behind bars. We feel safer and it bolsters our faith in the system charged with our safety and security. Plus, who doesn’t like a good story, where someone is wronged and the perpetrator pays the price the evil deed (whether they did it, or not)? And we don’t mind expending tax dollars in this manner. Besides, “I always knew there was something not right about that guy,” or gal.

We’re likely to think our community is better off without this individual on our streets anyway. And speaking of a jury of peers… Really? In most cases, where the wrongly accused is of a low economic (and/or mental health) stature, the members of the jury are likely not. (Although adequately selecting authentic peers would make for an entertaining reality TV show.)

In recent years, organizations have sprung up to help those wrongly accused and committed, but their resources are minimal, the demand is high and they hand-pick their cases that usually involve life sentences. There aren’t many resources available for imprisoned innocents serving less than a sentence of life in prison.

Is our system broken? Yes.

Can we fix it? Not likely any day soon.

Too much of our economy relies on our clunky legal system. While those who run the system attempt to make it look as good as possible, continue to enjoy their lucrative incomes, regular promotions and benefits.

That’s all well and good, unless it’s you who has been wrongly accused, stood trial, were found guilty and sent to prison for something you didn’t do.

‘ere but for the grace of God go I