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.

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.

Homophobic States of America

A recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health mentions lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) individuals are disproportionately incarcerated, mistreated and sexually victimized in U.S. jails and prisons. Lead study author Ilan Meyer, the Williams Distinguished Senior Scholar for Public Policy at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law says “The high rate was so shocking, I had to check it three times to make sure we weren’t making any mistakes.” Sadly, the report may be a reflection upon the hidden agenda of prejudice in America when it comes to LGBT relations.

All you have to do is mention gay marriage or lesbian adoptions and the hate nonsense immediately begins. We may also hear garrulous and pointless discussions about LGBT members clandestine maneuvers to “turn” a person gay or fall prey to their sexual innuendos. It is not only absurd but utterly bizarre to think in this manner. But we do hear it and fail as a society to stop this insane way of thinking. There are people out there, perhaps you know a few, that still think there are a gay agenda and plan to disrupt society. Perhaps I was asleep at the wheel, but I missed my copy of that gay agenda. Could someone please send me a copy?

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What bothers me the most about this published report is that it comes hundreds of years too late. We are aware that homosexuality, in general, has been habitually persecuted when it began in the Colony of Virgina and the rest of the world. The people of Virginia before the United States was formed criminalized male sodomy, making it punishable by death. Most notable is when Oscar Wilde in England was sentenced to two years hard labor in prison for gross indecency. The list of persecutions aroud the world went on and somewhat still continue today. It was California that created the modern day sex offender registry. That particular registry was to list every known homosexual even while still incarcerated and alert communities about known homosexuals. Today that registry is a mixed bag of every offense treating and labeling it as a final sum. It’s not a registry; it’s a stigma list. Creating anti-gay laws or lists will eventually bring death in some form or another.

Of course, those practicing law or law enforcement will lean towards being anti-gay. After all, law enforcement is a macho uniformed paramilitary culture while law is a formal dark affair of backroom deals rather than actual justice.  Female police officers must cross genders to be accepted among their peers. Female attorneys do their best to look like men rather than who they are. This is where the shift begins not to identify fairness but to recognize the strong macho identification of emulation. American culture is somewhat vigilante in nature by suggesting sayings to those that will or are incarcerated as, “I hope they become someone’s bitch in prison” or “Soon, Bubba will have a new bunkmate.” These suggestions only confirm that LGBT individuals incarcerated are mistreated and sexually victimized. It further suggests that we as a society are not doing anything to protect LGBT communities nor providing an advocacy of equal justice under the law. As long as politics, judicial prejudice and bigotry occur then, there will always be a disproportion within our jails, schools, and society. I once heard the saying, “This is why homophobia is a terrible evil: it disguises itself as concern while it is inherently hate.” Our society, leadership, and judicial officers are responsible for providing equality to all and immediately discovering ways to stop the disproportioned. How many more hundreds of years must pass before we do something?

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