Should We Put People In Jail For Being Ill?

Yesterday was a very intense day at work where I have a client who not only has a serious drug problem but also some serious mental health issues. Most of my clients have a combination of these issues and usually we can work with them. Yesterday this client who was in obvious emotional distress had to be told that she may have significant mental health issues that are getting in the way of her recovery. We basically had to tell her she needs to be evaluated by a psychiatrist but before that she needed to go back to jail so the probation people can get her the help she needs.

This jail stop is what happens when a state has a very low budget priority for those with mental health and addiction problems. The closing down of psychiatric facilities nation wide has turned jails into places where people with true illnesses get placed. They get put in jail because society feels uncomfortable with their behaviors. Laws get passed or interpreted that rationalize the imprisonment of those with mental health disorders and addiction to drugs and alcohol. This is imprisonment for being too ill for society to cope with your disease.

You may not be aware that about up to 80% of people who end up in jail or prison are victims of abuse. Many of the people in prison need treatment and being locked up will only cause their disease to get worse.

The imprisonment in the United States is growing all the time. Our country, based on freedom, has the highest percentage of the population locked up of all the other developing nations. Locking people up rehabilitates no one.

The reason I write about this today is because we as a nation have to look very carefully at what is most important as we go forward during this time of real change. Do we need to build more prisons or do we need to seek real help for most of the people that get locked up these days? This locking people up because they are ill seems heartless to me. What do you think? Where has true human compassion gone? Isn’t treatment and rehabilitation more cost effective and humane?

As I sit here writing, I feel for this client who was to go to prison but I also must chuckle a little. When she left to walk to the jail nearby a friend was there in his pickup and off they sped. His mental health issues may not be any better than hers but frankly jail seems like such a bad idea for someone who really could use some real care and extended treatment. Eventually the warrant put out for her will bring her back to jail but her stay there will most like turn this very upset person into even a less functioning member of society.

All of this ultimately is about the return of the human heart to leadership. Without compassion we are no better than the darkest of other governments. Think of a better way, of caring for all people who suffer. Think of a world guided by hope for even those that struggle mightily. Think of you and all of us with an open heart and busy doing acts of compassion. Wouldn’t the world feel so much better?