Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Prison and How it Affects Us All By Intern Hannah Davis

While carpooling to work, one of my coworkers mentioned a concern she has with how there is little mental health care in prisons when so many prisoners are mentally ill. My curiosity was peaked so naturally I went to the internet to see what the current situation was for prisoners. Examinor.com claims that overcrowding is due to relapse, which accounts for approximately seventy percent of California inmates, many of which may have undiagnosed mental health disorders.

Since overcrowding is a problem, why hasn’t anyone taken the time to try and help these people get control of their mental issues? Doesn’t it make sense to spend extra time and money while they are there, in the system, instead of letting them go only to return weeks, months, or years later? Wouldn’t this, in the long run, save the taxpayers money?

Therapy and proper medication may be all it takes to help them get on the path to recovery. And yet I wonder if the small amount of time with a psychologist would be enough to really help them get better. There are so many prisoners currently in the system that people must consider how many professionals would need to be hired full time and how many hours each prisoner would get with them. Would inmates get weekly sessions, or would that be too much strain on the therapists? If the answer is yes that would be too much, then would it still be effective if these prisoners only meet once a month, or for half hour sessions every other week?

You’re probably wondering how does this topic apply to me? I’m not in jail. I’m not mentally ill.

Perhaps you are not. But what if one of your family members who has a mental illness commits a crime and while in jail doesn’t get proper attention. They may never get better and therefore continue his/her destructive pattern of violent or dangerous behavior that leads to another jail sentence. If a person is forced to participate in therapy if mentally ill, then they can start to get treated, whereas the same person in society may not seek help and quite possibly never get any better.

As I stated in an earlier blog, almost 25% of the population has a mental disorder. What if one day you develop one? Wouldn’t you feel more comfortable knowing that if your illness causes you to wind up in jail that you will be provided help? Or maybe you already have one that you think you can control, but over time your habits become harder to resist. You might feel that need to start a fire, or steal something from a store, or the voice in your head tells you to hurt someone.

Another reason is because we pay to keep our jails running. For anyone interested in fixing this part of the legal system they have quit a challenge ahead of them. People will need to convince their community that paying a little more to help those who are mentally ill within prisons is better then letting the current system continue. As taxpayers we should ask ourselves if we would rather pay a little more now and hopefully see a decrease in inmates and prices, or continue to pay a little less but never see a change. With the second option we may end up paying more in our lifetime then if we take the first option.

Plus, as a community isn’t it our responsibility and desire to help those who are in need? Shouldn’t we take care of those who may be unable to help themselves? One way I look at this is what would I want others to do if I was a mentally ill inmate who continuously goes to prison because of my disease. By putting ourselves in their place we can better comprehend the horror and need for change.

So, what can we do as a society to fix this current problem? The first step is to talk about it and start asking questions. These dialogues may lead to action, either by local government officials or someone in the community who becomes impassioned by the work. This action can eventually lead to debates about changing the legal system and providing therapy and treatment for mentally ill prisoners. If it comes to the ballots we then can vote and hopefully make our voices heard through change.

Sure, this may take a while to achieve, but isn’t it worth it if we can help even one person who is suffering from a mental disorder get better? Wouldn’t you want people fighting for your health and safety?

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