It would be disheartening to believe that some of the actors involved, particularly legislators, would be consciously using the criminal justice system to achieve the goal of sweeping a medical crisis under the rug and damaging so many human beings in the process. The writer is speaking figuratively, although, it could indeed be the case that a small number of calloused individuals don’t care that we are sending people to prisons who should be in hospitals – who should have never been convicted in the first place.
What is troubling about this moral, civil rights, and constitutional crisis, is that most of the entities, individuals and institutional, do not understand that they are doing something terribly wrong. They do not understand psychosis spectrum disorders, they believe that they simply co-exist with criminality or a complex of criminogenic factors (thanks to a troublesome faction of the mental health industry) among which is the ‘mental illness’ itself, and that these “mental disorders” are psychosocial disturbances that are amenable to correctional intervention and control.
Even well-intentioned advocacy against ‘criminalization of mental illness’ in the media will almost invariably make comments in the order of:
“People with mental illness don’t get better in prison or jail, they often get worse”
You have to dive deep into that kind of comment to see what is so wrong and what signals the underlying fallacy. The only logical reason for someone to believe in the first place that a convicted person with a ‘mental illness’ would be expected to improve in jail is if they believed that ‘mental illness’ was a psychological disturbance that can be resolved or improved by a person coming to terms with what they did wrong and modifying their behavior, as a consequence of punishment – with incarceration serving as a rehabilitative mechanism.
Serious neuropsychiatric symptomatic behaviors are not psychological and they are not under the control of the individual. They are not amenable to punishment. No matter how gruesomely violent those behaviors may be, they should not be punished – they should be treated medically. This is where we have to get to psychologically as a nation and education is what it’s going to take to get there. In this space and time, we believe that we are lawful and good because of our character when in fact it is because our brains are permitting us to be lawful and good. A significant segment of the human population may not be able to get there cognitively.
We are where we are because of a profound lack of understanding of neuropsychiatric disorders and how they impair a human being’s capacity to conform their behaviors to the law. As it has been said in other posts and other content on this site, that neuropsychiatric illness, particularly what is generically known as Schizophrenia, is a quantum leap away from anything most human beings are able to conceptualize. Many neuroscientists recognize that M’Naghten’s Rule is a defective definition of insanity that has little to do with neuropsychiatric illness. Operationally, the other less common ones (MPC, Durham) are no better, because people fundamentally misconceptualize insanity as “not knowing what one is doing”. Legislators do not know how legal insanity should be defined because they do not understand clinical insanity (a terminology used here for utility, there is not such terminology in the lexicon of medicine).
The only way for this nation to begin to extricate itself from this moral crisis of injustice, from this barbarism in punishing the behavioral consequences of neuropsychiatric illness, is for every law school in this country to require in-depth coursework on the topic of neuropsychiatric illness and for a sweeping education campaign to snap the general public out of its state of ignorance. Our collective state of ignorance makes us a danger to people with neuropsychiatric illness. We cannot continue to have DAs, defense attorneys, prosecutors, judges, and justices of our highest courts practicing and administering criminal laws when they have not been educated to understand neuropsychiatric illness.