In an interesting piece for the Denton Record-Chronicle, Matt Roberts of Mental Health America of Greater Dallas is quoted as saying, “We’ve traded hospitals for jails.” He is referring to the fact that America’s jails are home to millions of mentally ill, people who may have been institutionalized 50 years ago, or receiving community-based treatment just a few decades ago. Now, however, those options aren’t on the table.
“If you don’t provide enough money to keep people well, the police get called and they end up in jail.”
The Dallas County Jail is the largest mental health clinic in North Texas, serving 1,400 patients in their psychiatric unit every single day. And while they can provide some benefits to those patients, such as medication and even therapy in some instances, those benefits are gone the moment they are released from jail.
Mental health institutions were commonplace until the sixties and the Community Mental Health Act. This Act put an emphasis on integrating the mentally ill into the communities with the help of community-based mental health therapy and programming. That was all well and good until the community programs were no longer funded.
Now, the mentally ill often receive no treatment at all. For some, the only medication they get is in the form of illegal drugs and therapy isn’t offered unless they spend significant amount of time in a larger jail or in the state prison system.
Left to their own demise out within the community, many who are severely mentally ill end up homeless or engaging in criminal behavior, both because of their illness and in an effort to provide for themselves in a society where they can’t find employment or help.
The police often aren’t trained well enough on dealing with the mentally ill, a problem that can often lead to tragedy when one becomes suicidal or violent.
Because the state and localities are not providing for these members of society, there is often nowhere else for them to go than the criminal justice system. In many ways, criminal charges are a blessing in disguise, providing treatment within the jail or prison and further treatment through probation and parole.
But even if you are provided with some level of help, that help is usually gone when your time in the system expires.
Dealing with mental illness is difficult, and it’s particularly hard when you can’t get treatment. If you are charged with a crime and you battle with depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia, an attorney may be able to help you get the treatment you need.