All around the world, people battling serious mental illness are locked up rather than placed in treatment. In some countries, incarceration rates and conditions are worse than others. What remains constant, is that when underprivileged individuals go without the care and necessities they need, their likelihood of arrest and imprisonment is far higher than it should be. Once incarcerated, people often face poor conditions, spiraling mental health, and an increased likelihood of suicide or recidivism. They are kept from the services and treatment they need to recover, and create a massive burden on law enforcement and federal budgets, despite the majority of crimes being low level and non violent.
Across societies, we should be working to keep mentally ill individuals out of jail, off the streets and away from violent crime. There are many factors at play here — poverty, addiction, homelessness. To confront them simultaneously, community leaders and criminal justice reform organizations should partner with mental health professionals, law enforcement, policymakers and prison staff to fight for two key goals — implementing better mental health services in prisons, and funding preventative services to keep people from arrest.
Individuals have a right to treatment, even when they’re behind bars. Statues should be enacted to expand treatment options, including medications, within prisons around the world. Once released, treatment should be made accessible for those battling severe mental illness in order to lessen the likelihood of recidivism. Crisis Intervention Programs, as they’re called in the US, should be implemented so that law enforcement is trained to handle psychiatric crises and keep individuals from arrest. They also serve as a way to get the broader community invested in creating change. Other initiatives may include community support groups and programs that offer emotional guidance and keep kids off the streets, or re-entry programs that help people assimilate after release. And finally, lawmakers should fight for legislation that keeps nonviolent, low level offenders out of prison, and instead, places them in rehabilitation programs or therapy.