When a judge sentences a defendant, generally the sentence focuses on the action; and the penalty, within guidelines or mandates, is based on the crime. What is normally not fully addressed are the underlying causes that led to the defendant’s behavior, and in many cases, unless the underlying issues are addressed, a prison sentence is no more than a holding period before the criminal performs the same or a different crime once more.
The underlying issue, in many cases, is mental illness. A 2015 article by the magazine The Atlantic investigated the issue and reported among their findings that it’s estimated that more than 50 percent of all inmates have some sort of mental illness. The mental illnesses include:
- Depressive disorder: 21 percent
- Manic depression, bipolar disorder, mania: 12 percent
- Schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder: 5 percent
- PTSD: 7 percent
- Other anxiety disorders: 8 percent
- Personality disorder: 6 percent.
Prisons Overrun and Not Equipped
A 2015 story by National Public Radio (NPR), citing the Treatment Advocacy Center, suggests that, nationwide, more than 350,000 inmates in jails and prisons throughout the country suffer from serious mental illnesses. NPR also cites Lisa Lamb, spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections, who said that about 25 percent of inmates in the Kentucky system receive psychiatric medications.
However, despite basic services, the consensus among experts is that incarceration, whether it be local, state or federal, is not conducive to any sort of treatment and, in many cases, actually exacerbates the issues. A big part of the problem is that state mental hospitals have been defunded in the last three decades, leaving mentally ill inmates to be incarcerated in the regular jail system.
Treatment After Release
One of the biggest issues that confront convicts with mental illnesses does not occur inside the prison walls, but arises once they are released. A report by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) states that many individuals “wind up homeless, in emergency rooms and often re-arrested.” They estimate 83 percent don’t have access to help once they are released.
NAMI, along with other organizations, has created and supported several programs to help with the issue. They suggest that the number of mentally ill inmates overwhelms the system, and they support a program called The Stepping Up Initiative, which strives to decrease the number of mentally ill people in jail.
The group, in conjunction with local police forces, is working to create what they call crisis intervention teams. These teams will be trained to recognize signs of mental illness so that people are steered into treatment as opposed to jail. They also encourage diversion programs instead of jail time.
NAMI also offers a helpline that provides resources for families with incarcerated relatives who suffer from mental illnesses.
Alternatives Prove More Effective
All of these programs have been proven more effective and more efficient than simply placing people with mental illnesses in jail. Putting individuals in treatment programs addresses several issues. Aside from helping to alleviate the issue of prison overpopulation, the availability of treatment programs also helps to get to the core of the issue causing the illegal behavior in the first place. By addressing that, the hope is that with the cause of the criminal activity addressed, the criminal activity will stop and the individual will be able to lead a more happy, healthy and productive life.
Dan Carman and Attorneys, PLLC is a firm of criminal defense attorneys located throughout the state of Kentucky. If you have questions or seek a consultation, contact us online or call us at 859-685-1055.