America has the highest incarceration rates in the world. Millions of adults are currently languishing in the penal system. The prison population disproportionately contains people from the most disadvantaged sectors. These convicts are usually poorly educated men under the age of 40. Most struggle with addiction and suffer from physical illnesses.
However, since the 1960s, correctional facilities are experiencing a steady growth in mentally ill offenders. Worryingly, most offenders often get worse while serving time. The American penal system is unwilling and unprepared to deal with mental health patients. The pervasive abuse, neglect, and frequent use of isolation techniques are common in the system are catastrophic for patients suffering from poor mental health.
So, it is no wonder that eventually, mentally ill convicts end up harming themselves. While most incidents of self-harm are nonfatal, several are not. As cases of suicide and self-harm escalate, the situation evolved into a national prison mental health crisis.
Tragically most suicides within the prison population are preventable. Therefore, people are raising their voices against the mistreatment of the mentally ill in prisons. They believe recruiting someone with a forensic psychology degree as a correctional officer can mitigate the risk of mental illness. There are several other ways we can help convicts struggling with mental illnesses.
Focus On: Maximum Diversion Of Persons With Serious Mental Illnesses:
We must create community-based services for people to help them understand mental health conditions. People should know how to de-escalate crises by offering treatment alternatives to patients. Therefore, voluntary engagement is necessary to improve mental health statistics.
1. Mental health screening: Timely mental health screening and evaluation can help identify vulnerable individuals. Therefore, community members should focus on the development of mental health services. They must also increase investment in rehabilitation programs across the public and private sectors. Individual treatment plans concentrating on consumer recovery should include mental healthcare, supportive education, and psychosocial services. These services should exist in the least restrictive environment to promote the voluntary engagement of offenders.
2. Reassess mental health courts: While there are 150 mental health courts in America, most of them face overwhelming challenges. Most jurisdictions use them as a substitute for comprehensive mental health care. Therefore, it is vital to remove mental health patients from the criminal justice system at the earliest stage. Mental health courts must limit coercive methods to treat homeless people.
Focus On: The Right To Access Mental Health Services:
Institutions have to step up and support people with restricted access to mental health services. They must provide patient information and mental health treatment resources to professionals. The justice system has to realize that patients have a right to refuse treatment and have a voice in their treatment plan. All stakeholders must collaborate to reduce recidivism.
1. Redirecting public interest: Advocates for incarcerated mental health patients must make significant efforts to educate stakeholders about prison mental health crises. They must work with law enforcement, correctional groups, judges, prisoners, and the media to highlight systemic inadequacies in correctional facilities. The civic community must play a primary role in advocating for effective strategies to address the issues.
2. Highlight treatment of mental health patients: Stakeholders can work with prison reform groups to identify conditions of incarcerated mental health patients. They have to ensure that the criminal justice system treats individuals with mental health conditions humanely.
3. Collaborative efforts between stakeholders: Law enforcement and emergency services are the first people to encounter mentally ill offenders. However, evidence suggests that law enforcement officers are unprepared to handle these individuals. According to The New York Times, officers often engage in physical altercations with individuals suffering from mental health conditions. Therefore, they need to collaborate with behavioral health agencies to improve the situation.
Focus On: Eliminating Abuse And Discriminatory Punishments:
Mental health patients face discriminatory practices and penalties at every stage of the criminal justice system. From sentencing without parole to rampant sexual abuse, there are several instances where harmful practices can endanger the mental health of individuals.
1. Appeal unfair laws: Advocates must work to appeal laws that permit life without parole to mental health patients. They must also campaign to eliminate lengthy sentences for juvenile offenders. Treating juvenile offenders as adults and sentencing them to life imprisonment can harm their mental condition.
2. No criminal liability for the insane: Individuals who suffer from severe mental illnesses do not understand the wrongfulness of their actions. They may also be unable to control deviant behavior. Therefore, such people should not be criminally liable for their actions. A full-insanity defense can prevent grave miscarriages of justice.
3. Suspend the death penalty: The American justice does not have a ban on executing mental health patients. The Supreme Court has repeatedly refused to intervene in similar matters, despite people with mental illnesses facing overwhelming difficulties defending themselves. The stigma and fear of the jury often fail to do justice. Consequently, people with mental illness are more likely to face the death penalty. Therefore, the state must draft an accurate and just sentencing system that considers the mental status of defendants.
Rehabilitation of offenders suffering from mental health conditions is the ultimate goal of a functional criminal system. However, for years policymakers persistently ignored the evolving prison mental health crises. They need to redouble their efforts in enhancing the early identification of treatment needs and expand access to viable alternatives. Lawmakers have to reform the law to take mental problems into account.