U.S. Judiciary Finally Wising Up? by Mary Neal
ARE WE BEING BLESSED with more compassionate and righteous judges? Judges are declaring more defendants incompent to stand trial. Could it be that our judiciary is beginning to acknowledge the error in criminalizing mental illness? An article by USA Today cites statistics that offer hope that more judges understand that mentally ill citizens cannot be "rehabilitated" into a state of mental health by suffering in prison.
Mentally Incompetent Defendants on Rise
May 28, 2008 - By Kevin Johnson and Andrew Seaman
USA TODAY - WASHINGTON
The number of accused felons declared mentally incompetent to stand trial is rising in 10 of the nation's 12 largest states, delaying local prosecutions and swamping state mental health and prison systems, a USA TODAY review finds.
See the entire article at the link below:
Approximately 1.25 million prisoners in our country are mentally ill, due to mental hospital closings and restrictions on enforced treatment for acute mental patients who have insufficient reasoning skills needed to make wise treatment decisions for themselves. Unfortunately, the fact that judges are cognizant of the criminalization of mental illness and are responding with more humane verdicts against defendants who are mentally incompetent to stand trial will not suffice to render these patients the care and/or containment they need and protect society from those who may pose a danger to the public.
In addition to rendering judicious verdicts from the bench, there is a genuine need to re-open and reconstruct quality mental hospitals with better overview, increase and improve out-patient mental health services and make provisions for out-patients' general wellbeing, and reduce restrictions to enforced treatment when patients demonstrate a lack of willingness to avail themselves of needed psychiatry. Making these changes in the way America deals with chronic mentally ill citizens would have four important benefits -
(1) It would be CHEAPER than today's revolving door to jails and prisons by way of the judiciary which we now have in this country;
(2) Easier access to mental health services, including enforcement when necessary, would help to promote a SAFER society for patients and the public;
(3) Incarcerating people who may have little or no understanding of their legal offense or their Miranda rights is cruel and unusual punishment and a violation of their CIVIL RIGHTS; and most importantly,
(4) It is certainly MORE HUMANE to treat than to punish people for being sick.
Concerned citizens should find out how judges in their local courts are sentencing for crimes allegedly done by mentally ill people. Are they sending your neighbors to prison for having a bi-polar crisis in public, calling it "disturbing the peace"? Are schizophrenic people in your communities being sentenced to prison for acting on impulses they cannot control, instead of committing them to hospitals for treatment? One interesting problem for defense attorneys is that their mentally ill clients who are arrested pending trial are usually treated for their mental dysfunctions while under incarceration. Therefore, jurors never get to see these patients in their psychotic states and therefore are apt to reject insanity pleas.
This exciting news from USA Today's study is encouraging for people interested in a just, humane, rational approach to acute mental illness in America. People interested in human rights and equal justice should get involved and promote decriminalizing mental illness in their local courts. As more judges find mentally ill defendants incompetent to stand trial, states will be forced to open and re-open mental hospitals and to make mental health services more available to out-patients. As states are faced with the increasing burden of hospitalizing chronic mental patients who have conditions that could have and should have been addressed with psychiatry and drug therapy to PREVENT the mental patient's illegal acts in the first place, states may take a second look at the issue of enforced treatment, at least for those patients who are on parole and probation.
Prisoners have essentially already lost their right to freedom and self-determination. Enforced treatment for out-patients during the terms of their parole or probation would greatly reduce the number of repeat arrests chronic mental patients suffer and save states (taxpayers) money, as well as help acute mental patients function better in society, perhaps restoring many to a mental capacity necessary to keep gainful employment and enjoy life with their families and friends.
How are your judges handling this issue? Hospitals or prison for mentally ill offenders? You decide.
PLEASE SEE MORE ABOUT CRIMINALIZING MENTAL ILLNESS AT THESE LINKS:
The time is always right to do what is right.
- Martin Luther King Jr.
Submitted by Mary Neal
Assistance to the Incarcerated Mentally Ill
P.O. Box 7222, Atlanta, GA 30357