from Mental Hospitals to the criminal justice system

The Trickling Effect: The Mass Closure of Mental Hospitals

As the years go by, more and more mental hospitals close down. With mental hospitals closing, many people with mental issues encounter police and end up in the criminal justice system. 

Produced and Edited by America Lopez-Santiago

The effects of mental hospitals closing

By America Lopez-Santiago

Crime is not a cut-and-dry issue. The root causes of criminal behavior are often complicated. Mental illness, especially those that are severe and remain untreated, can cause a person to act out and put them at significantly higher risk of being criminalized.

Many people  who have a mental illness end up in jail because they didn’t have access to resources that could help them. Approximately 356,000 inmates have a severe mental illness. This has shocked many people because they think it cruel to punish them instead of getting them the help they need. It is also known that jails and prisons have replaced mental hospitals as the primary placement for people with mental illness. 

According to Daniel Yohanna, a professor at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, some people stopped supporting the existence of mental hospitals because it was believed that they were inhumane and cruel. Many people thought that there would be medication that could cure everyone who had a mental illness. Then there was the root of it all- the desire to save money for the government.

In 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed the Community Mental Health Act. This Act was supposed to help people with mental illnesses live in a community setting while also receiving treatment.  However, not even five months after is when JFK was assassinated and the act was not fully implemented. In 1967, Ronald Reagan was elected California's governor. During this time, the number of patients in state hospitals decreased to 22,000 from its original population of 560,000. Once Reagan's administration saw a decrease in state hospitals, they decided to make cuts to the Department of Mental Hygiene.  

Steve Page, CEO of SUN Behavioral, is someone who is working towards a solution. SUN Behavioral is an organization that has four locations in the United States including a 90-bed psychiatric hospital in Delaware. 

"Steve Page started SUN Behavioral because there is a national mental health crisis where we don't have enough services or providers," Ann Wayne, President of SUN Behavioral Delaware, said. "Patients are getting stuck, and this creates more problems for them."

SUN Behavioral is determined to help those in their communities to solve the mental health crisis.

Another solution that is succeeding is Miami-Dade County Criminal Mental Health Project. This project was created by Judge Steve Leifman, which helps those who might have a mental illness   participate in a court recommended diversion program and receive treatment.   It gives  people a year to get their life together to get them out of their parole or jail sentence. In Miami, one can see that it has worked tremendously because the recidivism rate of offenders with mental health conditions has decreased from 70 percent to 20 percent. Not only did Leifman create the project, but he also got Miami-Dade County to spend $80 million a year to house and treat people with mental illnesses

Many people don't like the thought of mental hospitals, but if more places were like Miami, Milwaukee, and Tucson that are finding solutions to help people with mental illness, then there wouldn't be a crisis. These local community centers support people with mental illnesses and help them stay out of the criminal justice system. We can help fight for more community centers for those with mental illness.

As the years go by, more and more mental hospitals close down. With mental hospitals closing, many people with mental issues encounter police and end up in the criminal justice system.

Produced and Edited by America Lopez-Santiago


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