The Justice System and the Mentally ill

The Justice System and the Mentally ill

If you or someone you love suffer from paranoid delusions, hear voices, hallucinate,  and sink into suicidal depression; chances are without treatment you will find yourself locked up in a county prison.  While the shock value of this statement doesn’t seem to have the impact it once did, the reality of the torment these mentally ill prisoners face can not be understated.

With the overcrowding of our jails, there is no longer enough room to house all of the mentally ill inmates in segregated areas, so many mentally ill men and women are housed with the general population.  To make matters worse when these mentally ill men and women act up the prisons routinely lock them up in their cells for roughly 23 hours per day.  This prolonged isolation is all the harder for many prisoners with serious mental illness to endure because it involves harsh and punitive living conditions and, often, unnecessary staff-on-prisoner uses of force.  These conditions, intended to control these prisoners’ behavior, serve only to exacerbate their mental illness.  Frequently, these conditions combine to do serious harm in the following way:  a prisoner with serious mental illness is placed in isolation with inadequate mental health care, causing him to decompensate and behave negatively; staff respond by subjecting the prisoner to harsher living conditions, denying him stimuli, and/or using excessive force against him; the prisoner’s mental health continues to deteriorate, and he begins to engage in self-injurious conduct (e.g., banging his head hard and repeatedly against a concrete wall, ingesting objects, or hurling himself against the metal furnishings of his room) or attempts to kill himself; staff eventually respond by placing him in the MHU – a unit where a limited amount of treatment is provided; as soon as the prisoner begins to stabilize, he is returned to isolation, and the prisoner’s mental health again spirals downward.

As a society I think we can unanimously agree that prisons are not the ideal environment for the mental ill.  But what other options do we have?  One option is funding  community treatment centers, rather than resorting to incarceration for many of those with mental health problems.  Permanent supportive housing and treatment would offer a far better chance at recovery, lower recidivism rates, and would cost a fraction of what it takes to throw someone into a jail cell. 

Well I am happy to say that Delaware County is now looking into such an option.  Starting in January the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas will begin running a Mental Health Court for those individuals charges with non-violent offenses that suffer from mental illness.  In addition George W. Hill correctional facility, in an attempt to help improve conditions and reduce the number of prisoners incarcerated due to mental illness,  through the Delaware County Office of Behavioral Health and the Delaware County Prison this year contracted with Peerstar LLC to create a Forensic Peer Support Program for individuals with serious mental illness in the criminal justice system. Forensic Peer Support is an inspiring, evidence-based program that pairs trained individuals who have overcome mental illnesses and a lived experience in the criminal justice system with individuals suffering from mental illness and/or substance abuse in the system. 

If you or someone you love are facing criminal charges and suffer from mental illness, contact the Law Offices of John E. Kusturiss, Jr., P.L.L.C. today.  There is hope and treatment out there, let our attorney’s help guide you through the process.  Contact our office today!

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