Justice Reform Must Include Mental Health Reforms

Recently there has been an increased awareness of Justice Reforms in America. According to the Brookings Institution, it reports that we are spending $80 billion a year on incarceration. However, according to the U.S. government, we spend on average $3.5 trillion on health care annually. I raise the two separate issues to pinpoint a severe flaw that both systems are broken and in disrepair.

To help find a solution, some lawmakers have introduced policy allowing the privatization of prisons systems suggesting a reduction burdening taxpayers. Yet, these private prisons profit $7.4 billion annually. Let that sink in for a minute. If a private prison can turn a profit, then why isn’t our national corrections system rolling in surplus? Trillions of dollars on health care spending or roughly $10K per person and we should be the most mentally and physically fit people in the world? But that is not even an actuality in comparison to other nations with free health care. But it’s more complicated than that – because we choose to make it complicated.

Some could argue that jails and prisons provide health care, mental health assessments, and medication to inmates. While true, it holds two temporary but critical flaws. First, the inmate must volunteer and often establish a co-pay payment while incarcerated leaving many in additional debt when released. Second, once an inmate has been set free, there is no continuation of health services of any kind. While there may be low-cost municipal services to the formerly incarcerated the stigma of finding a job, housing, transportation, food, and reassimilation into a skeptic and often hostile community serves no real purpose or plan for successful outcomes. A practical reason for high recidivism rates is that the mentally ill are the most likely to return to jail or prison because they will have housing, food, reassimilation of structure, and medicine. However, somewhat like the perception of registered sex offenders is viewed as all-encompassing violent criminals. The same could be said in how we label those in the mental health community as criminals when in the judicial system.

The reality is that for justice reforms to deliver a sustainable solution the legal system it must collaborate and establish a strategy. A part of that strategy is to include health care and free easy to access proven mental health programs. A reason our health care system is broken because of the lack of accessibility and wage to pay for preventative health services. That same argument extends towards mental health both post and preventative. When an individual pleads for help, but no resources are readily available then there begins the problem in how we should be addressing it. However, if that same individual commits a crime because the bureaucracy fails to establish relationships with health care providers, then it will always be a win-win for prisons and recidivism.

Nobody will claim that justice reform is an easy task. Ultimately, it will be an expensive endeavor both politically, financially, and with strong emotional discourse. But if we make an attempt to focus on a long term strategy regulated by nonpartisan individuals its success may be achievable and results driven. If American society can experience sizable shifts in capitalism where factories that once monopolized the world were replaced with higher skilled and improved conditions why can’t we create and collaborate a rational plan to reduce incarcerations and a clogged judicial system with health organizations that understand data proven methods that will deliver immediate results? If we can invest in soldiers to train them to be leaders on a battlefield, train college students to create inventions to change the world then we can certainly change the dynamic of our outdated judicial and prison systems by reinvesting in proven and life-saving methodologies with long-term cost savings visible in the horizon.

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Someone Has To Look After These People

It is older generations that leave behind valuable lessons. However, it is a society in general that fails to learn from those lessons until it is too late. My grandmother, if she were still alive, would be 101 in a few days. She worked as a psychiatric nurse for the now-closed Dorothea Dix Hospital in Raleigh, North Carolina for over 33 years. She loved her job because she had compassion and empathy for people. Many of her friends and relatives were concerned for her daily safety working closely with unpredictable seriously ill mental patients. However, she would eloquently put it, “someone has to look after these people.”

To me, that statement alone is paramount to many of the discussions surrounding criminal justice reform, mental illness, and compassion in society today. Decades ago politicians decided to close nearly all state-managed mental health facilities. Later it was insurance companies that began reducing policy coverages for underlying mental health assessments. Then that trickled down towards expensive medications that those with a mental illness cannot afford or ensure regiments are taken promptly to keep them off the streets. The bottom line is nobody is looking after the mentally ill. Well, at least not in a sense we were once accustomed to. Today, mental health is governed and managed by your local police or law enforcement department. Rather than adequately fund a psychiatric clinic, hospital, or increase our nursing shortages American culture feels that police can best manage the mental illness crisis.

When I read the newspaper and learn about another random school shooting, I quickly identify where such chaos and carnage could have been prevented not with gun control, safer schools, unique alert systems, or police presence. Instead the lack of mental health accessibility, counseling, facilities, and qualified individuals to identify these individuals are restricted by polished police cars, fancy badges, uniforms, guns, and police registries. A simple comparison of a mental health clinic versus a police station looks like night and day in America. Perhaps it is time to spread out that police funding to other departments to help citizens go back towards helping people and those with mental illnesses. Jails and solitary confinement facilities are not a proper way to treat mental illnesses.

Additionally, society must stop second-guessing individuals trying to use mental illness claims as a way to skirt criminal justice. It is time to allow qualified and licensed doctors to make that assessment. If someone is a danger to society, then let a someone with a medical license, doctorate, and a hospital residency instead of an individual with a two-week jailer course and basic first aid/CPR.

Lastly, psychiatric facilities are not institutions where we lock individuals up and throw away the key. They are treatment facilities that utilize plans of action to assimilate people back into society. After all, these are people and human beings too. The stigma of mental illness is typically identified negatively within society. That is because we fail to see or witness first hand the overall successes and rely on poor data or circumstances of particular individuals that enter and exit habitually. Our overall vision of mental health encompasses those where psychological effectiveness is not working rather than the whole. This is where we must halt rhetoric such as throwing away a key because doing so doesn’t provide a treatment plan or an ability to remedy mental health issues. Instead, it is a recipe to pass on the problems to future generations because there was nobody to look after them.

Give Me Affordable Insurance or Give me Death!

Remember that Martin Shkreli guy that raised the price of a single medication to over 5000%? Americans were outraged at how a person could be so insensitive and cruel taking advantage of the public that needed this medication. However, during that hoopla, I didn’t see those same pitchforks and torches trying to battle the health insurance industry? Why is that? Perhaps we know very little about how to tackle and fight for our needs when it comes to medicine.

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I was reading an article where Biogen’s new treatment for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) was going to cost $750,000 for the first year and $375,000 annually after that. If you were in need of that mediation would you complain that you can’t afford it or would you fight to get it and let your insurance company suffer the cost? I’m willing to bet that most of you would just throw in the towel and seek another remedy instead. Folks, it’s time to start engaging doctors to work beyond just diagnosing and writing prescriptions for us. We must do more to advocate and secure a solid treatment plan and hold insurance companies feet to the fire. My reasoning for this is that insurance companies made a choice to manage healthcare. Instead, that very industry that wines and dines pharmaceutical reps and hospital administrators are very aware of the game they are engaged in. However, the insurance industry would rather pin the problem back on the patient or consumers rather than the physician that wrote the order or the pharmaceutical company that set the price of the medication. This is when you get that dreaded call that you need to begin a generic regiment because of your insurance won’t pay. This is utter nonsense! Push back folks! The Affordable Healthcare Act clearly says, “A doctor can request that the plan cover the medicine “by exception,” even though it is not on the plan’s formulary if he or she feels that another medicine will not work as effectively for you, or if, for example, you are allergic to the other medicines on the formulary.” Additionally, that same law says, “If your doctor requests an exception and it is denied, you can further appeal that decision by submitting a letter of appeal to your insurance company.” Get that medication you need instead of rolling over at the mercy of big industry.
Of course, we all have our pharmacy that we use. It may be convenient or has someone we know and trust. But is that pharmacy in-network with your policy? Just because your insurance is accepted at the pharmacy, you may be paying more for medication because it is not entirely in-network. You can find out if you are in-network by visiting your insurance company website or calling to locate an in-network pharmacy.

What if you don’t have insurance? This is where those without insurance may go “huh?” and those with insurance may slowly get angry. Research has shown In some cases; it is less expensive to pay for the medicine without plan coverage than with plan coverage. I’ve actually tried this. I take Adderall XR for ADHD. With insurance, a 30 days supply costs me $20. But if I didn’t have insurance the standard price would be over $190. After talking to the pharmacy, I was able to download prescription coupons where my cost would be $15 each month. Yes, I pay less in my prescription by not disclosing my insurance to go around to get my medication. Sure, I save $5 but folks, I’m not using insurance when I have insurance. How crazy sounding is that? This is why we dislike our health care system and hate insurance companies in general. It’s a game where the rules change at a whim, and we have no idea what the next moves are? But this example demonstrates a serious flaw in our affordable health care efforts.

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If I needed a million dollar a year medication for whatever reason, I would be the first to do everything in my power to get it. Naturally, my doctor would be working overtime to ensure that I get it if he determines that it is in my best interest of health. I assure you that I would not be paying full price or a reduced price. I would be paying my first tier co-payment of $20 instead of a million. I didn’t invent the rules, but I am certainly going to ensure that the insurance industry abides by the law.
It’s time to let the insurance companies and pharmaceutical industry to declare war on each other. Lately insurance companies have been at war with consumers, and that method doesn’t work. The law is written clearly to support our needs and requirements. Let’s do our part by pushing back and investigating our policy and use it to our advantage. Don’t be tricked into carefully crafted marketing words. Use your plan and show the pharmacy and insurance company the law. It’s really simple. The battle should have always been between pharmaceuticals and the insurance industry all along. They figured they would throw a wrench into the effort to slow us down in the process. Let them know delay and deception of their policies won’t work anymore!