"Where there is no vision…the people perish"
Our current objective is to be a voice for the voiceless. We want to persuade our legislators to change the laws on how people who suffer with mental illness are being processed through the criminal justice system. The department of corrections seems to have become a warehouse for the mentally disabled. It's time we shift our thinking. We understand that deinstitutionalization is not appropriate for all people suffering with mental illness. However, the government’s approach to increase the use of jails and prisons for those deemed unmanageable with mental illness is unsatisfactory. Jail and prison personnel are not equipped to handle the complex nature of this disease.
If a person has a certifiable mental illness they should not be inhumanely treated for having this disease. In some cases, they are tortured by being put in isolation 23 out of 24 hours a day. The lack of social simulation is harmful regardless of the inmate’s mental status and studies have shown that isolation can have psychological implications. The mentally disabled are extremely vulnerable to this type of punishment. It can actually exacerbate their already fragile mental condition; they should not be dehumanized because of their illness. Mental illness is a disease of the mind and should be treated as such. We don't punish people because they have diabetes, cancer, etc. So why is this country punishing the mentally ill? They are not disposable! They are human beings! How did this country reverse back to the barbaric abuses and neglects that were once denounced? It was those neglectful practices such as isolation that partially lead to the outcry for de-institutionalization in the first place. We feel that solitary confinement constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment," which is prohibited in the eighth amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
An individual with severe mental illness requires constant professional care with a well-trained and compassionate staff. Our organization’s position would be to have all certified mentally ill individuals who break the law, committed to a long term mental health facility. A place where they can be treated with human dignity and receive proper medical treatment. Let’s bring back a new and improved mental health system to house these voiceless souls. Housing the severely mentally ill in a proper long-term therapeutic environment will protect them from inhumane treatment and the public would be safer.
In addition, when the mentally ill are released from prison they do not have adequate housing. Thus, they wander the streets, break into abandon buildings for shelter, are taken advantage of, and use illegal drugs to self-medicate. Finding housing is always difficult for ex-offenders, but the challenge is even more acute for the mentally ill. "For the severely mentally ill, there is virtually no facility designed for long-term inpatient care," says Sherri Sullivan, director of Bridgeview Manor, the only residential treatment center in Ohio that accepts the indigent mentally ill. "If they exist, they exist in the form of a group home, and most group homes don't offer treatment."
If you have a son or daughter incarcerated and you feel the way I do, please sign-up and become a member. We might be able to correct some of these issues, but change only comes with the support and demand of the citizens.
If we want change, we will have to fight for it, we cannot hide from it. "God gives his hardest battles to his strongest soldiers."