Mental Health and the Judicial System: Why We Should Care for the Most Vulnerable


In the judicial system, the interaction between the mentally ill and established tradition in caring for them and meeting their needs is something that has raised increasing concern in recent years. Politicians, judges, and others involved in the prison system are realizing that the care of the mentally ill has not kept pace with changing attitudes toward the lack of resources available to this subset of the inmate population. With sixty four percent of local jail inmates afflicted with some sort of mental illness, there has been a push for greater access to programs designed specifically with the mentally ill in mind.  

Some places, like California, have increased their budgets substantially to account for more treatment beds and mental health programs inside prison walls. According to the Los Angeles Times, Governor Jerry Brown has recently budgeted a shocking $117 million to provide better resources and treatment for those unfit to stand trial due to their mental illness. New York City governor Bill DeBlasio has also recently budgeted money specifically dedicated to female inmates dealing with mental illness, financing much-needed services to rehabilitate them, provide them with career counseling, and supply other types of treatment specific to their needs.

Other places, however, are providing unique access to care that is focused more on prevention and rehabilitation. Rebecca Rossmeisl, 32, was the first participant to graduate from the Whatcom County Mental Court’s program, a relatively new program dedicated specifically to women with mental illness who are convicted of misdemeanors. It was designed as a jail alternative to rehabilitate those whose offenses are clearly due to their state of mental health, helping integrate them into society having overcome some of the deficits that their mental health has left them with, whether social, behavioral, or cognitive.

Many times, people with such illnesses do not have access to the care and facilities that they need in order to cope with their illness and its potential ramifications. This program, started just recently in 2015, makes an effort to acknowledge this gap in not only the judicial system, but also the mental health community as a whole. Throughout the course of the program, participants work through everything from building social skills to creating and maintaining healthy personal habits to participating in volunteer work.

This issue of mental health in the prison/judicial system should be important to those of us championing the mental health campaign and trying to increase awareness for how these types of illnesses affect people every day.  Certain types of mental illness make patients more vulnerable and prone to violent behavior, and this can affect their daily life and their road to recovery. Those with bipolar disorder, for instance, are particularly vulnerable to both violent behavior and suicidal ideation due to the intense mood swings they can experience.  During a manic episode, people with bipolar disorder experience inflated feelings of self esteem and self-importance, leading them to do things that they would otherwise recognize as dangerous, risky, or inappropriate behavior. According to the Psychology of Law and Criminal Behavior Blog, criminal behavior may present itself in those with bipolar when it is accompanied by drug or alcohol abuse. According to the Blog, the risk of criminal behavior seems to show a positive correlation with the duration and frequency of the manic episodes experienced in bipolar.  

Bipolar sufferers are certainly a small subset of the population, and mental illness does not equate violent or criminal behavior. However, the need for facilities that take into account the needs of the mentally ill in the judicial system are still certainly needed. Programs like the one in Whatcom County, Washington, are a necessary step toward more comprehensive treatment for the mentally ill. As opposed to scrambling to keep up with the needs of a burgeoning population of mentally ill inmates, perhaps in the future we can be a part of perpetuating a new, healthy cycle of mental health awareness and aid, one where the mentally ill are granted access to programs that create healthy habits, encourage positive behavior, and take positive steps toward maintaining a productive, self-sustaining lifestyle.

 

References:

National Alliance on Mental Illness. Department of Justice Study: Mental Illness of Prison Inmates Worse Than Past Estimates. Retrieved on February 14, 2018, from https://www.nami.org/Press-Media/Press-Releases/2006/Department-of-Justice-Study-Mental-Illness-of-Pris

Ulloa, J. California’s mentally ill inmate population keeps growing. And state money isn’t enough to meet needs, lawmaker says. Retrieved on February 4, 2018, from http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-mental-health-incompetent-trial-costs-20180202-story.html

Toussaint, K. NYC To Invest $6M to help break cycle of incarceration for women. Retrieved on February 4, 2018, from https://www.metro.us/news/local-news/new-york/nyc-6m-break-cycle-incarceration-women

Pratt, D. These women were facing mental illness and jail time, and this program helped them heal. Retrieved on February 4, 2018, from http://www.bellinghamherald.com/news/local/article196984014.html

National Institute of Mental Health. Bipolar Disorder. Retrieved on February 4, 2018, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/bipolar-disorder/index.shtml

Paldowitz, K. Bipolar Disorder: The Highs and the Lows. Retrieved on February 4, 2018, fromhttp://www.psychology-criminalbehavior-law.com/2015/01/bipolar-disorder/  

Image from: https://pixabay.com/en/supreme-court-building-usa-546279/

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