Changing How Mental Illness is Dealt With in the Justice System

         We wouldn’t jail someone for having a disease like diabetes because number one they aren’t breaking any laws and two because they were born with it and cannot change that fact. Unfortunately, there are some diseases in which the symptoms are not easily visible to the common eye. With mental illnesses and diseases, the symptoms often come in a variety of appearances from easy to see impairments to some much more difficult to observe. As a result of the distinction between mental illnesses/diseases and more common illnesses, there is also a differences in the way those with a mental disease are treated in the criminal justice system. Since mental illness come with symptoms that are difficult to observe, this influences the way in which the person is arrested, booked, and sentenced.

          What truly separates a common illness or disease from those that are more mentally affected, is that their mental illness has the potential to cause them to tragically harm others. We have seen it time and time again, mass shootings where lives are taken at the hand of a gunman who is clearly not in the “right” state of mind. This was the case with the Virginia Tech shooter and even more recently with the man who killed 13 people in Fort Lauderdale. It is a familiar theme in which later details of each of the incidents revealed longtime battles with mental illnesses/diseases from paranoia, schizophrenia, and psychosis to name a few. The public begins to hear that the individual sought some sort of treatment or at least raised concern of their potential actions because of their mental illness. However, there was always a time down the line where whoever was treating the patient, overlooked the “risk potential” the patient had. Those professionals often cite certain policies or rules in their defense that do not allow them to take much action because of ethical concerns. In any case, whatever the reason for not taking action, these instances reveal a much larger concern with how we are helping those battling with a mental illnesses/diseases

The lack of policies that properly manage situations like this, demonstrate the lack of care we have in the livelihood of those with mental illness. Why do we have to wait until violence ensues before we realize that mental illness is something we seriously have to treat. Both for the mental health of the individual and the safety of communities. Therefore, its prevalency is not necessary for us to begin taking action toward more sustainable outcomes for our citizens. While there are policies in place that manage parts of the entire problem of how we take care of those with mental diseases, it is currently too complicated to make a large scale impact. There are still certain flaws within the criminal justice system that does not giving proper treatment to those coping with serious mental illnesses. For instance, schizophrenia is more recognized as a debilitating mental illness that has the potential to be the main cause of their violence whereas psychopathy is not. As a result, people with schizophrenia can be found to be legally “insane,”  which lifts the responsibility from the individual, to the illness. This alleviates some punishment as they can be placed in mental hospitals with greater chance of treatment oppose to prisons.  Yet, while schizophrenia and psychopathy have have very different ways in which their symptoms manifest, it is ultimately their symptoms that directly cause them to become violent. Therefore, they both deserve to be offered treatment or have a space where they can go where they are cared for instead of posing a risk to themselves, others, or behind bars as a result of violence from their illness/disease.
           However, it is also important to highlight the fact that there are some cases that complicate this matter. For that reason, it makes this topic even more necessary to discuss how we can resolve the issues that prevent us from ensuring proper care for the individual. We need to develop a program that guarantees we have facilities to assure that those mental illness are provided treatment and protection necessary to live sustainable lives. We do not need any individual who is struggling with a mental illness/disease to be thrown behind bars for actions they have little to no control over and where their disease/illness has the potential to worsen. In finding a space that accomplishes these goals and more, it may also prevent the possibility of someone with schizophrenia whose auditory delusions (voices) command them to shoots someone. Overall, we desperately need to  begin discussing alternatives to the ways in which we perceive mental illnesses in order to properly manage those who have them. 

 

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