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Mentally Unstable Inmates Deserve Treatment

Martha Greenburg |
February 12, 2013 | 6:47 p.m. PST

Contributor

 

Jails currently hold more mentally unstable individuals than do mental institutions. (Sebastian Niedlich, Creative Commons)
Jails currently hold more mentally unstable individuals than do mental institutions. (Sebastian Niedlich, Creative Commons)
Jail is a strange concept. It is society’s way of saying, “We give up.” We give up on trying to figure out what it is that causes a person to commit crimes, we give up on trying to prevent crime from happening and we give up on trying to help offenders through their issues. We lock them up, and call it a day.

We fail to consider that sometimes the people who we lock up suffer from mental illnesses, which, while not enitrely responsible, may contribute to their actions.

In a study released in May 2010, the Treatment Advocacy Center reported that there are more people with serious mental illnesses in jails and prisons than there are in hospitals.

This information reveals an obvious correlation between mental instability and crime. While it is true that one must commit a crime to wind up in the big house, jail seems to be working as a convenient place to stash our crazy people. When it comes to stopping crime, it seems like we are spending a whole lot of time punishing people and very little time working with them in order to prevent future problems.

Our crime rate might actually decrease if the first time people with psychiatric issues were convicted of any crime, they were sent immediately to a hospital.

Instead, they are held in cells, sometimes completely alone until their sentences are up. While I have little sympathy for murderers and sex offenders, if they are, in fact, struggling with mental illness, then a dark, lonely cell hardly seems the place for them to get better.

Even if inmates are prescribed medication for their conditions, no one in prison is necessarily going to force them to take it. We are essentially taking our sick citizens, locking them up and allowing their minds to further deteriorate. Some of these people are released back into society where they are likely to lead an unstable life in addition to committing additional crimes. Others are kept in their jail cell, as untreated patients, sometimes leading them to suicide.

Jail should be a place for those who commit a crime to ponder their actions and be punished by their own regret. Unfortunately, it has become a place for the sick to get sicker. At this rate, our jails will soon be asylums, where we breed crime by allowing our inmates’ mental states to deteriorate, only to send them back out and ask them, “please don’t do that again!”

According to the Legislative Analysis Office of California, from 2008 to 2009 it cost $47,102 to incarcerate one inmate. If we could put some of this spending towards caring for the mentally ill, we would save people’s lives in addition to preventing crime.

It is difficult to ask ourselves to help those who have done others wrong, but we must look past their delinquencies and see that some of these people are ill. In order to decrease crime rates, we must separate the mentally ill from the convicts, because they are not always the same thing.

 

Reach Contributor Martha Greenburg here.



 

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Comments

juliani on February 12, 2013 9:13 PM

thanks for focusing on something so desperate and necessary

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