As I mentioned in my previous post Books by Inmates, a whole new world has opened up to me ever since I became a pen pal to inmates. I learned so much over the last months, and much of it isn’t good. Even if we are already aware that justice isn’t what it’s supposed to be, it is worse than I thought. Around 20,000 innocent people are incarcerated in the US alone. Prisons have more inmates with mental health issues than psychiatric institutions do …
Who Often Arrives at the Scene of a Mental Health Crisis?
There are a lot more disturbing facts which merit their own articles. The fact that mental health issues and illnesses are prevalent in prisons is already troubling enough. Police instead of medical staff are usually at the scene of a mental health incident, untrained to deal with it, and thus applying force which can have disastrous consequences for someone suffering from depression, schizophrenia, extreme burnout, anxiety, or any other condition that requires medical assistance.
An Eye for an Eye, in all Cases?
I used to have that same way of thinking: “you do the crime, you do the time”; but how much time is fair and is too much time really a way of keeping society safe? It also never occurred to me that many were dealing with mental health issues or illnesses. Somehow, I – and I think most of us – expected that authorities took care of things. Even if mistakes were made, they should have been rectified. Right?
Well, I changed my mind about that.
Some Things Don’t Seem to Add up …
The US is the one country in the world that dishes out life sentences (with and without parole) for all sorts of crimes, even non-violent ones. In my opinion it doesn’t work, because gun violence is still rampant and the news of mass shootings is scary and disturbing.
According to World Population Review, the USA ranks second place in gun deaths, after Brazil. A list on Wikipedia demonstrates that the US has the highest number of guns per 100 inhabitants in the world …
Furthermore, people who committed terrible crimes are released early while others who did non-violent crimes are imprisoned for life …
Over-convictions are doled out indiscriminately.
In my previous article I mentioned Eric Miller (in Iowa) who got life without parole for manslaughter (self defense) … and Bobby Bostic (in Missouri) who was sentenced to 241 years in prison at the age of 16 …
So, if convictions don’t seem to make any sense and differ depending on the state, lawyer’s zeal (or lack of it), the prosecutor’s drive to make a career and get more homicide convictions on his resumé – while forgetting one important factor, the human being whose life is being destroyed over it – is it any wonder that people who should receive help for mental health issues and even mental health illness are thrown into prisons?
I even remember signing petitions on change org and the petition site to demand justice for mental health patients who were brutally handled by police.
Just a small disclaimer here: I do not mean to upset anyone, and I am talking about inmates who are either innocent or who have made a terrible mistake in their youth and who lost the rest of their lives because of it, people who by the time they mature grow out of the violence, people who deserve a second chance and want to become productive members of society. This post is not intended for those who feel absolutely no remorse for what they did and are inclined to repeat abusive behavior. This post is written to address the many issues inmates face.
Mental health issues are no joke, and although they are rampant nowadays, many – even in positions of authority – do not take them seriously enough, as we can see here.
I have also been a victim of crimes, and I understand that some people may have conflicting feelings or opinions about this article, but we must remember that we’re all human beings, and the tag inmate still has a human being attached to it.
Mental Health Facts in Prisons
Let’s look at some statistics and facts.
- In a mental health crisis, people are more likely to encounter police than get medical help
- 2 million people with mental illness are taken to jail every year (Source: National Alliance on Mental Illness)
- Nearly 15% of men and 30% of women booked into jails have serious mental health illnesses
- 10 to 25% of inmates in the US suffer from schizophrenia
- In jail, those people do not get the treatment they need, which worsens their condition
- After leaving jail, many lose access to health care, which they desperately need for their mental illness … In most cases, they end up homeless or back in prison …
- Prison can create or exacerbate mental health issues
- Depression is the most common mental health condition in prison
- Anxiety, mania, post-traumatic stress disorder are common as well
- According to a 2004 survey (in which data of 18,185 prisoners were obtained) 26% had mental health conditions and only 18% were taking medication for it when they entered prison. More than 50% of those who were medicated did not receive the medication they needed in prison.
- Rates of recidivism (the tendency to re-offend) are higher for people with mental health issues who have gone undiagnosed and untreated. (source: NCBI)
It is hard for me to discover all these stories of injustice, harsh punishments that are over the top, and a strong lack of consideration for the human beings that the states deal with. There seems to be an utter disregard for their stories, and mental health issues (when it applies) …
I also believe that we all make our own choices, but it is easy to point the finger and say “I wouldn’t …” or “I would …”
I used to point the figurative finger at inmates, generalizing them all as the same, but it is clear that that is not the case. My finger is changing direction now and it is pointing at the states and the courts and it is asking a loud WHY?!