Criminalizing mental illness

In the past three decades, the number of persons suffering from mental illnesss has increased especially in the criminal justice. Almost 700,000 individuals exhibiting severe mental illness are annually being admitted in United States jails. Mentally ill persons are mostly homeless and are usually exposed to drugs and substance abuse. They are usually petty offenders prosecuted with offences such as loitering, shoplifting and disrupting of public peace.

The increasing numbers of mentally ill persons in jails have raised alarms of a need to institute measures to ensure these persons are taken good care of and that they are given treatment to enable them live peacefully in the communities (Arons, 2000). Criminal justice system and the mental illness Justice systems for the juveniles as well as the jails are being used as heath care facilities for the mentally ill inmates in the United States. These institutions are poorly equipped and designed to handle such responsibilities thus necessitating construction of better facilities to contain the mentally ill persons.

Usually, mentally ill individuals are vulnerable but can be treated but jails and juvenile systems are not conducive places to treat them. Due to the overpopulation in the criminal systems, mentally ill individuals are rarely treated adequately making their condition to deteriorate. Deinstitutionalization which took place in 1990s led to the shift of mentally ill persons from the hospitals and they were taken to criminal justice system. This was meant to eliminate the mental institutions which were commonly referred to as “warehouses” (The American Psychiatric Association, 2004).

Mentally ill persons are made criminal offenders mostly due to lack of community support, difficulties while accessing treatment especially after they are released from jail and also poor law enforcements trends. Officials of law enforcements believe that criminal justice systems are the best for people with mental illness since they can access treatment. However, overcrowding in jails has made this almost impossible leaving most of these people unattended. Acute mental illness is then developed leading to the high cases of suicides in jails.

Another cause of the increasing numbers of mentally ill persons in the criminal justice system is due to the under funding of services for community health treatment for mentally ill persons (McFarland, Faulkner, Bloom, Hallaux & Bray, n. d). Most of the behaviors exhibited by mentally ill individuals are considered as lifestyle crimes which are said to be non-threatening to the society. Most of the offenses committed by mentally ill persons have so far been criminalized in the United States thus leading to an increase in the number of mentally ill individuals in jails.

Mentally ill persons in the country are arrested and put into jails. Most of these persons are then incarcerated which is stressful for them leading to deterioration of their mental state. Most of the mentally ill persons who are jailed are not treated and those who were on treatment prior to being jailed discontinue their medication. The stressful conditions of the jail thus lead to acceleration and worsening of their mental illness.

Lack of adequate and appropriate treatment makes it hard for a mentally ill person to fit back into the society after his or her jail term is over. Due to the jail conditions, mentally ill persons become more aggressive thus posing a greater risk to themselves, the other inmates and to the society at large. Criminalizing mental illness is not only harmful to the mentally ill persons but also to the families which are denied a chance to take care of their people and ensuring they have access to medication (Duarte, 2005).

Due to the poor conditions in the criminal justice system for mentally ill persons, human rights activists and psychiatrists have proposed a more community based program to be instituted to enable treat the mentally ill persons instead of sending them to jails. Taking care of mentally ill persons within the criminal system is more costly than it would cost the country to support community based health services for this persons. There are calls for jail diversion instead of taking mentally ill persons to the normal countries jails.

This involves employment of professionals in mental health to check detainees who are then taken to mental health services which are community based. These community based health centers should be developed by the courts or the countries specifically for mentally ill individuals. This would eliminate incarceration for mentally ill individuals in the criminal justice system and these people are only prosecuted after the professionals deem appropriate (Conly, n. d). Conclusion The debate of the mentally ill in the criminal justice has taken different shapes as the state and the mental health specialists take different stands.

According to the state, mental illness does not pose any safety threat to the community and it only involves behaviors which the communities are uncomfortable living with. To correct such behaviors, they are criminalized and thus mentally ill persons are taken to jails to reform. This is harmful for the mentally ill persons which the mental health specialists are fighting against. Jail conditions are stressful which only leads to acceleration of the mental illness of a person making future reforms difficult.

An alternative way should thus be established to ensure that mentally ill persons are helped to recover and to better fit in the communities and be productive. Incarceration is harmful to the mentally ill individuals and should be avoided at all costs. The state should support community health services to ensure the mentally ill persons get easier access to medical attention thus reducing the number of mentally ill persons in the jails.

Reference: Arons, B. S. (2000): Mental Health and Criminal Justice. Retrieved on 2nd March 2009 from, http://www. hhs.gov/asl/testify/t000921a. html. Conly, C. (n. d): Coordinating Community Services for Mentally ill Offenders: Maryland’s Community Criminal Justice Treatment Program. Retrieved on 2nd March 2009 from, http://www. ncjrs. gov/pdffiles1/175046. pdf. Duarte, L. (2005): Mental Illness And The Criminal Justice System: A Recipe For Disaster / A Prescription For Improvement. Retrieved on 2nd March 2009 from, http://www. miamisao. com/publications/grand_jury/2000s/gj2004s. pdf. McFarland, B. H. , Faulkner, L. R. , Bloom, J. D. , Hallaux, R. & Bray, J. D. (n.

d): Chronic Mental Illness and the Criminal Justice System. Retrieved on 2nd March 2009 from, http://psychservices. psychiatryonline. org/cgi/content/abstract/40/7/718 Nieto, M. (1999): Mentally Ill Offenders in California’s Criminal Justice System. Retrieved on 2nd March 2009 from, http://www. library. ca. gov/crb/99/02/99002. pdf. The American Psychiatric Association (2004): Mental Illness and the Criminal Justice. System: Redirecting Resources toward Treatment, Not Containment. Retrieved on 2nd March 2009 from, http://www. neoucom. edu/CJCCOE/support/apa_criminaliz