NPR: “We have criminalized mental illness”

National Public Radio recently ran a feature documenting the high costs of America’s continuous practice of locking up large numbers of people with mental disabilities.

This is a picture of the National Pubic Radio building in Washington DC with the NPR logo on its side.P
NPR Building in Washington DC

NPR interviewed Miami-Dade County Judge Steve Leifman, who is creating a new facility he calls a “forensic diversion facility” to provide sentencing alternatives for people with mental disabilities. Leifman describes how America’s prisons are failing people with mental disabilities by not providing resources to prevent them from reoffending.

In one particularly telling case, 97 individuals were arrested in Miami-Dade County a total of 2,200 times in a five-year period, costing tax payers more than $13 million.

“We have a criminal justice system which has a very clear purpose: You get arrested. We want justice. We try you, and justice hopefully prevails,” Leifman  told Laura Sullivan, guest host of weekends on All Things Considered. “It was never built to handle people that were very, very ill, at least with mental illness.”

Conservative estimates put the number of people with mental disabilities in America’s prisons and jails at 350,000. Nationwide, more people are currently receiving mental health treatment in prisons in jails than in hospitals and treatment centers. In fact, Los Angeles County Jail, Rikers Island Jail in New York City and Cook County Jail in Illinois are the nation’s three largest inpatient psychiatric facilities in the country.

“It seems to me that we have criminalized being mentally ill,” said Sheriff Greg Hamilton of Travis County in Austin, Texas.




One response to “NPR: “We have criminalized mental illness”

  1. I read this and was struck with the line “how America’s prisons are failing people with mental disabilities by not providing resources to prevent them from reoffending.” Since these systems are failing, at a cost of billions already – when are the psychiatrists who designed them held accountable for their failure? Third world countries get far better results in community mental health than the U.S. as they don’t use psychaitric drugs the way we do. The psychaitric drugs turn an acute life crises into a chronic disability and liability for us all.

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