Some of the largest facilities housing the mentally ill in America today are not able to handle mental illness adequately. This is because, at their core, they simply are not designed to handle the needs of mentally ill individuals and do not have the means to provide the one-on-one care many patients require.
These are prisons and jails, housing an estimated half million mentally ill individuals scattered across the nation, where people who commit crimes because of their illness find themselves in an environment where their conditions may actually get worse.
Attempts at Reform
The local and county jails where so many mentally ill people end up are doing what they can to help inmates who need psychiatric care, but their options are often limited. NPR covered some of the steps being taken in a report this September.
Jails have taken a number of steps to reduce the return of mentally ill people after their sentences are over, mostly focused on mental health screening. However, in data surveyed during 2011-2012, only a third of inmates who met the threshold for serious psychological distress were receiving treatment. One of the main tools in addressing this problem is a collaboration between the corrections departments and mental health providers. The Stepping Up Initiative, for instance, encourages mental health screening and provides follow-up with clinicians.
It is important that inmates have access to medical help because the corrections system itself cannot adequately help them. Research cited by NPR shows that inmates who show signs of mental illness are targeted for abuse by other inmates, and the best tool to protect them was to move them to isolated cells. However, isolation can make symptoms of mental illness worse.
Methods of Prevention
The corrections system is doing what it can, but the core of the problem lies in the fact that they receive mentally ill patients at all. The Treatment Advocacy Center views the problem as systemic, and even one of the sheriffs interviewed by NPR noted that the problem was larger than his sphere of influence to correct. Diverting the mentally ill away from prisons and into care centers is a step in the right direction. But there needs to be a serious effort made to reform the entire legal system to avoid targeting the mentally ill.
Criminalizing mental illness causes increased stress on people who need care, and creates new obstacles to them receiving needed assistance, housing, and jobs.
Until the system can adequately address mentally ill individuals, however, we must continue to fight to get them the best care we can, especially when they are targeted by law enforcement. Contact us today to discuss what our Florida criminal defense attorneys can do for your case.