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Jail Inmates and Mental Illness

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Michael Balsamo of AP has this article on the chronic problem of mental illness and jail inmates, focusing on LA County and methamphetamine abuse.

The Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs has this post acknowledging the problem but reminding the public where most of the blame for the situation belongs.

The state legislature is responsible in large part for the rise of inmates with mental health issues.  It is the state, not local law enforcement, which made the decision to close mental institutions, refuse to allow involuntary mental health treatment, and then dump on the streets those who could/should have been treated. Instead, we simply wait for them to victimize other people, incarcerate them for those crimes, and then blame jail deputies guarding them for not being orderlies or psychiatrists.
The post goes on to note that ill-conceived legislation and initiatives shifting corrections burdens from the state prisons to the county jails have also aggravated the problem.

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I believe (although I am not certain that any reliable data backs up my belief) that mental illness is the underlying cause of most alcohol/drug addiction in America as the sufferers try to quell their suffering. In turn, that abuse/addiction is present in the majority, if not the vast majority, of all criminals.

Properly diagnose and treat mental illness and you will go a long way in reducing crime.

But rather than devote resources to this long overlooked national problem, the states and federal government have turned a blind eye to this festering health/safety disaster. And, instead, have simply devoted more and more resources to the seemingly easy solution -- lock em up and throw away the key.

That myopic solution is just punishment for some criminals for whom protection of innocent members of our society must be the paramount concern (regardless of any underlying mental illness that may have played a role in the criminal conduct in the first place).

But, by continuing to fail to properly address the mental illness elephant in the room, we have created a nation of psychiatric hospitals masquerading as jails and prisons but, as the article notes, staffed with personnel untrained in the intricacies of mental illness and who, therefore, end of acting as zookeepers trying to keep the "crazies" in line.

On the bright side, more and more jurisdictions are creating mental health and veterans courts that attempt to divert offenders out the traditional criminal justice system and into treatment programs. Whether these diversion programs have been (or will be) successful in reducing crime (while at the same time helping the afflicted) only time will tell. But I believe it is a step, albeit a small one, in the right direction.

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