A follow-up conversation on mental health and the criminal justice system

41GWK3sjvZLThis was inspired from the great piece on 60 Minutes that I recently posted about (click here). A lot of you may not know much about the problem that is the mental health system in America and to be honest, I still continue to get schooled with every new headline. From Newtown Connecticut shooting from last December to Aurora that happened over a year ago to the Navy Yard shooting most recently, it just doesn’t seem to get out of our surroundings. It’s so easy to brush these stories off because we’re so inundated and saturated by one news headline after the next. And with the gun control debate, trying to keep up with everything is exhausting.

However, let me just try to keep your attention for a few minutes. Last year I went to a talk at USC’s Law School by Pete Earley, a Washington Post journalist and author who wrote a book called Crazy. It’s about his son who struggled with a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder for years. His son was resistant to his medications, would break into his neighbor’s house, drive for hours endlessly and aimlessly until he ran out of gas. He tried getting his son help, but the police wouldn’t help because he was not yet an “imminent danger” to himself or others. They couldn’t do anything.

Pete Earley was then inspired to write a book about the mental health and criminal justice systems and how these worlds combine. He says in it the same thing that was said in the 60 Minutes piece, which is that the single largest mental health facility in the U.S. is the county jail. The book I believe mentions that the Los Angeles Twin Tower jail is the largest, but the 60 Minutes piece says Cook County in Illinois is. Perhaps it has changed? Regardless though, our system is built such that we cram people into jails who are mentally ill and they’re not supposed to be there. They’re supposed to be in treatment. Unfortunately though, psychiatric beds don’t make as much money as hospital beds, so what happens? They close down. And what happens when they close down? There are less resources for the many who need it.

So what ends up happening? Well according to Pete Earley, he talks about how these people end up getting shuffled back and forth between courts and psychiatric wards because there aren’t enough space in the prisons to actually keep them and there aren’t enough space in those psychiatric wards to treat them. What we’re left with is a system that is in a vicious cycle of having a lack of treatment and a lack of resources to do anything about it.

It’s difficult to know where to start, but the more conversations in this area the better. What do you think? Have you experienced this system, either directly or indirectly?

Related links:

Rubin Khoddam, PhD Clinical Psychology student at University of Southern California, founder of Psych Connection.

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Categories: Blogs by Rubin

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3 replies


  1. Why mental illness is not a one-lane highway | Psych Connection
  2. Treatment of mental illness lowers arrest rates and saves money | Psych Connection
  3. Why psychology is wrong in the way they think about mental illness… « Psych Connection

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