A multi-partisan discussion of criminal justice reform — among Democrats, Republicans and billionaire philanthropists ranging from the libertarian Koch Brothers to the liberal George Soros, who are financing reform efforts — includes the question of what to do about people with mental illnesses who wind up behind bars, including for minor, non-violent offenses.
In its most recent report, released in 2017, the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that 14% of a yearly count of roughly 2.3 million convicted state and federal prisoners and 26% of jailed pre-trial detainees “met the threshold for serious psychological distress.” By comparison, during that same period, mental illness had been diagnosed in 5% of the U.S. population of comparable race, age and gender of those incarcerated persons. Continue reading
A Philadelphia police officer’s recent, fatal shooting of 27-year-old Walter Wallace Jr., as he wielded a knife, dramatized how, according to the numbers, those with mental illness are less likely to do harm than to be harmed, including by law enforcement.
In its most recent report on this topic, “Overlooked in the Undercounted,” the national Treatment Advocacy Center said persons with mental illness were 16 times more likely than those without mental illness to be killed during encounters with law enforcement. While the mentally ill account for 1 in 50 adults, they are estimated to represent 1 in 4 adults who are approached by police, the center’s researchers wrote. Continue reading
Coming up in my particular neighborhood in Little Rock, Ark., one of my dearest childhood friends was a boy we nicknamed something unflattering but — except for the meanest among us kids — treated with great kindness. He was “just slow,” we said, and left it at that.
The armchair analyst in me concluded, when we were teens, that my friend was mildly retarded (in the vernacular of that time). He also suffered sometimes-paralyzing bouts of depression. All these decades later, he remains a beloved treasure. I call him brother. He’s still a fixture in our hometown neighborhood, self-medicating with weed and, sometimes, crack. He’s snaggle-toothed, his skin an ashen gray. He looks way older than the rest of us. People with chronic, severe mental illness tend to die earlier than the rest of us. Continue reading