26 Sep No Surprises. No Solutions.
It is not surprising that generally 55% of all inmates in the United States suffer from some type of mental health issue, and at the same time roughly 5% of all adult American suffer from a serious mental illness. This was front page news in today’s Wall Street Journal. More? Colorado’s public mental health system provides services to only 15.9 percent of adults who live with serious mental illness in the state. This is according to a 2010 report by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. What about this month’s NPR’s report that the L.A. County jail system is the country’s largest de facto mental institution; and with all of California’s budget woes it is considering building a $1.3 billion jail that exclusively treats inmates with mental illness.
Our money is pouring into corrections budgets, to put a band-aid on thousands of inmates that self-medicate with drugs and get charged with crimes that get arrested and are unable to appraise the nature of the arrest or situation they were in because of an untreated mental illness. And, as a result, they face lengthy jail and prison sentences.
Although these two stories were printed in two national news sources in the last two weeks, why does it seem that similar stories have been printed over the last two decades- only the statistics are getting worse? Is it because we believe that people with mental illness cannot be treated, that people with mental illness are criminals, or that we are better off with them locked up? Our nation needs to pick up the rug, and get these ugly myths swept out from underneath. We are far too modernized to believe that people with mental illness cannot get treatment, be involved and loving family members, and enrich our lives. Isn’t your life enriched by Abraham Lincoln, Virginia Woolf, Ludwig van Beethoven, Isaac Newton, Ernest Hemingway, Michaelangelo, and Charles Dickens?
Iris Eytan is a Partner at Reilly Pozner LLP. She practices Criminal Defense with an emphasis in mental health defenses.