Before you read any further, let me suggest you read last week’s post about the failures of the healthcare system. It is a lead up to this post. Here is the link: how-did-the-healthcare-system-fail-us.html
Also, my wife is once again a guest blogger this week and that makes everything I do way better! ;-) We write this post together just as we did the previous two.
Our opinions on the healthcare system and the criminal justice system are strong. We stand by them. We are not saying that those who work in those areas are failures. We have plenty of friends who are nurses, doctors, psychologists, counselors, and lawyers. They are passionate about their jobs and do what they can to help take care of others. If anything, we speak on their behalf because, can you imagine doing something you love while also trying to advocate for positive change? It’s not easy. We stand up for what’s right and for those who want to make things right, but may need help along the way.
To start our discussion for this week, on the failures of the criminal justice system, let me fill you in on what happened after I was released from the Wake County Jail. You read my conversation with my wife on our drive home right?? It’s hilarious. Here is the link: prison-changed-me.html
The charges that were pressed against me were dropped. After several court visits, dates being postponed because the charging parties did not show, and $800, I was a free woman. Sort of. I then had to wait for my record to be expunged. I had been out of work and was not actively searching for a job. Applying for one with a record was not a good idea. It took almost 6 months for that to happen. Turns out the nurse who I kicked in the face didn’t even know of these charges. He never wanted to press them in the first place. It was the police officer that had done so. After the 3rd attempt at a court decision, the judge finally requested that someone call this nurse so that a decision could be made. We were there when it happened. It took less than a minute to call this guy and then tell me the charges were dropped. It was...ridiculous. All that time wasted, money wasted, for an arrest that never should’ve happened in the first place. Let me add that my wife was with me for every single visit, which means she was away from work. I am so grateful that she was there for me.
Sometimes I just want to look that police officer in the eyes and say, "HELLOOOOO sir, do you realize I was brought to the emergency room in serious distress from major depression and anxiety. Did you really feel it was necessary to file a simple assault charge against me?"
My psychiatrist has referred to my diagnosis as Biopolar II, but I’m sort of on the fence. It’s tricky, but I say this because it can help to further define what I experience. Google it if you need to. I was experimenting with different psychiatric drugs, still trying to figure out which one was going to work, and just feeling like nothing was going to. As I’ve said before, I do not consider myself suicidal, but rather Biopolar II with suicidal ideation. You can also Google that. My point is that I needed help and the process of finally getting there was crap. Then, to slap a criminal charge on someone who was there to seek help and unintentionally kicked a nurse!!! Not how our criminal justice system should function.
After my last post, I had a friend from college message me. She said that if I didn’t think I deserved to be arrested and charged, then how do we determine what happens to people who suffer from mental illness and commit crimes? She was wonderful in her approach and wanted to learn more. I really appreciated the conversation we had and her bravery to ask questions. That’s exactly what I want. My response was, “I don’t know that I have the ultimate answer to that, or that there is one solution, but I know putting people behind bars who suffer from mental illness will not help them manage their illness, nor attempt to live a better life.”
In a mental health crisis, people are more likely to encounter police than get medical help. As a result, 2 million people with mental illness are booked into jails each year. Nearly 15% of men and 30% of women booked into jails have a serious mental health condition.
The vast majority of the individuals are not violent criminals—most people in jails have not yet gone to trial, so they are not yet convicted of a crime. The rest are serving short sentences for minor crimes.
Once in jail, many individuals don't receive the treatment they need and end up getting worse, not better. They stay longer than their counterparts without mental illness. They are at risk of victimization and often their mental health conditions get worse.
After leaving jail, many no longer have access to needed healthcare and benefits. A criminal record often makes it hard for individuals to get a job or housing. Many individuals, especially without access to mental health services and supports, wind up homeless, in emergency rooms and often re-arrested. At least 80% of jail inmates with a mental illness d0 not have access to needed treatment.
Jailing people with mental illness creates huge burdens on law enforcement, corrections and state and local budgets. It does not protect public safety. And people who could be helped are being ignored. (Courtesy of NAMI, National Alliance on Mental Illness)
And it doesn’t stop there. We have other frustrations over our criminal justice system such as prison privatization and the treatment of minorities.
From my arrest to my record being expunged, I was fortunate enough to have the means to pay for a lawyer. I am also white. This matters. While we sat in court, there were tons of other cases being heard. Many of those people did not have lawyers. They would never be able to afford one. It was obvious that some were suffering from a mental illness and in some cases were sharing this with the judge. Being arrested and sitting there in court was not making their situation any better. Some were pleading with the judge to not postpone their court date again because they couldn’t afford to miss anymore work. There were younger adults there who had no idea what they were supposed to say or what a plea deal was. Many thought they were getting the better deal, but they weren’t. No one was helping them! We just sat there and witnessed this monstrosity. It angered us so much. Which is another reason we are here with you today, attempting to educate others about what the hell is going on right under our noses!
It shouldn’t take hundreds of dollars to afford fair and professional advice. It shouldn’t matter what color your skin is, what socio-economic class you fall into, and your mental health should not be ignored.
With the privatization of prisons, people who are mentally ill sitting in jails and prisons only suffer more. Staff are paid less, there’s less funding for staff training, and the rates of assault and suicide are higher. The companies that build and run private prisons have a financial interest in the continued growth of mass incarceration. That is why the two major players in this game—the Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group—invest heavily in lobbying for punitive criminal justice policies and make hefty contributions to political campaigns that will increase reliance on prisons. They want you to get arrested and to remain behind bars.
Worldwide, there are more than 10 million individuals in prison at any given time with more than 30 million circulating through each year. Research has consistently shown that prisoners have high rates of psychiatric disorders, and in some countries there are more people with severe mental illness in prisons than psychiatric hospitals. Despite the high level of need, these disorders are frequently under-diagnosed and poorly treated.
A neighbor of ours told us he was happy to leave his job at a women’s prison because they were not providing rehabilitation for life outside of prison, only ways to help them continue to live inside. Many of these women were suffering from severe mental illness.
Mental illness does not belong in the criminal justice system and it certainly does not belong behind bars.
I just want all people to learn and grow together.