The De-criminalization of Persons Suffering from Mental Illnesses

The criminal justice system of the country is considered as one of the most modern and developed in the world. The major components of the system are also considered as one of the most effective. The police officers can rush to the scene of the crime after several minutes after being informed. The court can adjudicate, dismiss the case or convict an offender in efficient and well-organized proceedings. And lastly, the corrections and prisons can transform an offender to become a good citizen after serving his or her sentence or even hold for lifetime a convicted heinous crime offender.

However, there are numerous cases nowadays that involve offenders suffering from mental health illnesses. These persons, which should be treated not like ordinary criminals, are usually left behind prisons without being treated properly. Because of the alarming numbers of violations of the civil rights of offenders suffering from various mental health illnesses, this is now considered as a contemporary issue in criminal justice system.

Criminal justice is the method of processes and institutions, used by governments, which aim to maintain public peace and order; controlling and eradication of crimes; and meting corresponding penalties to violators of laws (Cook, 2001). The criminal justice system is also incorporated with public information dissemination to raise the public’s trust in it being fair with equity and protective of individual rights. The system consists mainly of three parts: law enforcement, arbitration and corrections. In essence, system works on the preservation of the rule of law.

If the offender is found to be guilty, he or she will be confined in a prison to serve his or her sentence as a penalty (Bowman, 2005). However, what if the offender did the offense while he is mentally ill? What is the treatment of the police officers, courts and corrections with person suffering from various mental illnesses? This is the main theme of the news article published on TIMES Magazine entitled ‘De-criminalizing Mental Illness’ last August 8, 2007 written by M. J. Stephy De-criminalizing Mental Illness

Police officers often describe persons with mental illnesses as ‘psycho’ or ‘freak’. This proves that majority of the police officers misunderstood people with such illnesses. These mistaken beliefs are very dangerous especially when persons suffering from mental illnesses became offenders of criminal laws. This may result to death of the police officer, the suspect or other persons within the vicinity of the scene. Police officers are not the right people trained to handle such situation, but because they are the one being called to such incidents, they should be also be properly trained.

There are cases of persons arrested and imprisoned several times because of their illnesses. Majority of which suffers from bipolar disorder, depression and schizophrenia. L. A. Police Lieutenant Richard Wall testified to the members of the Judiciary Committee of Congress, so support the 2007 Second Chance Act. This law provides reduction of recidivism of persons with mental illnesses, and provides them treatments for them to be a better member of the society upon released. Wall said that prisons have turn out to be the mental health care giver.

The Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics listed 1. 25 million prisoners suffering from various illnesses ranging from schizophrenia to post-traumatic stress disorder that are left behind prisons without receiving any proper medications. To further enhance and develop the handling of the police officers on cases like this, the Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT) are being created and developed on different police departments throughout the country. In this program, police officers are trained to deal psychotic suspects in a rather extraordinary way.

They are taught to speak softly instead of shouting commands and repeating words; held their hands palm-up instead of showing their badge or gun; and refrain from wearing uniforms and just plainclothes during operations. These maybe simple acts but it will help to break the barrier between the police officer and mentally ill suspect. Some part of the CIT is for the police officers to understand the illness. They are asked to use a device called Virtual Hallucinations. Moreover, it will also help the police department to change its public image of being trigger-happy bullies in uniform.

The CIT was developed after an incident wherein an officer of the Memphis Police Department shot and killed a person suffering from schizophrenic deliriums in 1988. The Memphis Police Department with the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and two local universities developed the whole program. They first started to train police officers to properly handle situations involving people in psychosis. The issue of inmates suffering from mental illnesses is now a contemporary national issue. Various states are now starting to develop a system on recognizing this important issue.

In the State of New York, legislators passed last June a bill declaring illegal the solitary confinement of mentally ill prisoners. This came up after a study discovered that such confinements worsened the symptoms of the patients, and often led to suicide attempts and self-mutilation. Meanwhile in Florida, the Advocacy Center for Persons with Disabilities filed a federal lawsuit in opposition to the state of Florida. They said that leaving in jail without treatment persons with mental illnesses, violates their civil rights.

Sarah from Law Aspect

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