Mental Illness and the Criminal Justice System

Another series has emerged that focuses on severe mental illness.  Reporter John S. Hausman explores the intersection of mental illness and criminal justice in a series of articles published this week on in Michigan.

“Not every mentally ill criminal defendant belongs in jail,” Hausman writes about the criminalization of mental illness. “Some may need to be hospitalized. Some might belong in an in-patient substance abuse program. Others may more appropriately be required to comply with out-patient mental-health treatment they’d been avoiding….”

Zeroing in the tragic human impact of mental illness treatment policies, Hausman tells the story of Lorenzo Martinez. A young man who upon being discharged from a psychiatric hospital, “suddenly grabbed the steering wheel of the Durango his mother was driving…and jerked it, sending the vehicle straight into the path of an oncoming trailer.” Martinez currently awaits his trial for vehicular manslaughter.

Then, on mental health courts he writes, “[t]he goal is to protect the public by reducing repeat crimes by mentally ill criminal defendants, at the same time improving the participants’ lives.”

Hausman also acknowledges the strain that deinstitutionalization has placed on local police departments: “[P]olice regularly have to cope with crimes committed by mentally ill people…. Some also present an ‘easy target for street crime.’”

This series is a must-read.

–The Treatment Advocacy Center

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