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Mental illness and criminality

Like so many people, I find it almost impossible to keep up with every source of news and information that I read.  So, it is that on Saturday night I encounter a story from last Sunday's New York Times. 

(Links to come when I am not on my mobile.)

In the article, Nicholas Kristof quotes Cook County (Chicago) Sheriff, Thomas Dart as saying, "It's criminalizinig mental illness," and that this system that warehouses the mentally ill for often petty crimes (the example in the article was criminal tresspass in a laudromat) that our society is spending outrageous sums of money where actual treatment would not only be more effective, but also vastly less expensive.

Numerous studies are cited, but that one that caught my eye the most was completed by the National Sheriff's Association and the Treatment Advocacy Center.  Here are two statements by the study:

1) Nationally there are more that three times as many mentally ill people in priosn as there are in hospitals;

And follow that up with:

2) In 1955, there was one bed in a psych ward for every 300 Americans. Now it is one in 3,000.

Which leads to the horrible conclusion that we would rather incarcerate than treat the mentally ill. That we, as a society, have chosen to fund incarceration over medical treatment. That we have done less and less about mental illness in the years since 1955. 

To which I ask, "What the hell?"

And you might ask, "What does this have to do with Cincinnati and the law?" 


I have had several mentally ill clients. I would meet them the morning after their arrest as they waited to be arraigned.  Usually, they would be a mess. Sometimes utterly incoherent. One client thought that I intended to kill him. 

A few days later, after being treated in the jail, these people are coherent and able to discuss their situation.  They are almost universally self medicating with illicit drugs. Most are being housed for non-violent offenses -- often drug crimes.

Hence, I think it is time for this society to rethink our policies.  This kind of thought begins at home and home for me is Cincinnati. 

Do we want to be a city that warehouses and ignores the mentally ill, forcing an already overcrowded jail facility to burst at the seams, or do we want to work together, prosecutor and defender; left, right or in the middle; man, woman to fix this.  I can't believe that anyone would  reason that the best thing for the mentally ill is jail.

Nor can I imagine a scenario where caring from the mentally ill is the right thing for our Sheriff's department.  The best thing for the Sheriff's department certainly isn't being a mental hospital.


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