The Mentally Ill Stuck In Jails and Prisons – Education Is Key To Solving The Problem

This is an excerpt from a news article I recently posted. It makes some very important points:

It is a sad fact today that many mentally ill people in the U.S. often end up in jail or prison. This horrific situation is no small problem – it is a catastrophe. It is not one of those things that will go away if we just ignore it. This has instead become a national crisis. While there are no easy fixes, it is imperative that action be taken.

A story by Karen Libby on OzarksFirst.com provides information on how a new tax law signed by Governor Ava Hutchinson will establish a number of regional Mental Health Crisis Stabilization Centers, providing $5 million dollars slated to provide mental health evaluation and treatment. Money is important, but education is equally important if not more so, according to Virginia Sollars, author of ‘And Some Will Triumph’.

“We do not have the facilities or the funds to heal the mentally ill,” Sollars stated, “though it seems as if due to news articles of recent deaths in prison and jails, people are becoming more aware of the issues that the mentally ill face. In the 1950’s Congress passed the National Mental Health Act and the Community Center Act. The later provided seed money to States to create community based facilities to replace state hospitals as the primary care center. However, what has happened due to many circumstances such as the economy and lack of funding is that jails and prisons have become the new institutions for the mentally ill, many who are homeless. Mentally ill repeat offenders have as high as a 90% recidivism rate and commit crimes that have been categorized by one study as crimes of survival. They are incarcerated for shoplifting, loitering, trespassing, public intoxication and disturbing the peace.”

“I know many people might ask why they are not maintained on medication. Again, the facilities are not set up for the many that are in need. Even those who have families that care for them stop taking their medications for a variety of reasons. Think about this, your doctor tells you that you must take your antibiotic for at least ten days. By day four you are feeling better and stop. A few days later the symptoms are back again and now it is worse. It is the same way for the mentally ill. They stop hearing voices, or the depression is better, or for people with bipolar disorder they may be missing the highs, so they stop their meds and end up getting into trouble. Suicide by cop is a familiar scenario, putting both the officers and the mentally ill in jeopardy.”

“In Orange County, which has a population of over 3 million, we have 10 beds for acute psychiatric patients with no insurance and that facility does not take medically ill people or the elderly. Though there are hospitals that take them on an emergency basis, it is to the detriment of other people who are ill and in need of assistance. Also, an officer has to accompany them, taking that officer off the street where he or she is needed.”

“Here is a case scenario: A police officer is called to a scene where there is a mentally ill person. If that officer has been on the street for years, then hopefully he has learned enough about the mentally ill to deal with the person correctly. Sometimes it is just a matter of giving the mentally ill person enough space, not rushing in, not making a bad situation worse. Many officers only receive three to five hours of training when they are at the academy. Though now some have received CIT (Crisis Intervention Training) which could be as high as forty hours, as a psychiatric nurse of over 36 years and a correctional nurse for over 26, I know that it takes many years and many interactions to obtain the knowledge necessary so that no one gets hurt. There were times when I needed to call on all my years of experience to contain a situation.”

“The mentally ill can be extremely volatile and can strike out due to paranoia or fear of authority. Many have come in contact with the law at one time or another and for most it has been a horrifying experience. The mentally ill person may be paranoid and feel the officer is going to hurt him, or having command hallucinations demanding that he attack, not understanding that this will lead to imprisonment and sometimes death. Even if that person is contained in a human manner, the officers usually need medical clearance to bring them to a mental health facility. This leads to the officer sitting for hours, maybe days at an emergency room for a mental health bed to become available, leaving him off the street where he is needed. What usually happens is that they bring the mentally ill to jail. If it is a minor charge, that person may be on the street within twenty-four hours, given a time and date to appear at court. As many mentally ill have no idea what day, month, or year it is, they don’t show up and it becomes a warrant. So, the next time they come in contact with law enforcement, then end up staying. Unfortunately, the jail is not the place for the mentally ill. There are few beds for them and personnel is overwhelmed. They get lost in the system and sometimes mental health is not advised of their incarceration until they have hurt themselves or someone else. The problem is nationwide.”

“I think that all law enforcement should be better versed on mental illness. They should be giving courses that are mandatory and not learn how to deal with them on the job. There are psychiatric teams that do come out to assist, but some work banker’s hours and others just take too long to get there.”

“We need to educate people and it should start in the classrooms and at home.”

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