Mental Illness in the Criminal Justice System

The primary takeaway from this summer, which I wasn’t expecting, was the way I viewed people with mental health problems and the issue of mental health in general. It quickly became clear to me that locking up a crazy person was not going to do much in terms of curing their mental illness. However, it also became clear to me that mentally handicapped people who commit crimes are often a danger to society. The sensible medium, which I saw many defense attorneys and many ADA’s advocate for, is to put mentally handicapped people in to some sort of program that actually works to correct the problem. In theory this all seems very easy but when you take in to account how often clients fail to rehabilitate themselves in these programs, a romantic outlook on this approach becomes harder and harder to maintain. We’re at a point in the young history of abnormal psychology where there are so many problems, so many questions, and so few answers. It makes me wonder where to draw the line between protecting society and protecting mentally challenged individuals. I have no idea what the answer is; in many ways it’s a problem that can only be solved by doctors. Public defenders, who play the crucial role of protecting those who cannot protect themselves, can only help this population on a short term basis. With so many different subjective opinions about how to handle this, I’m confident that there is at least one objective starting point and that is admitting that those who are mentally disable are in fact mentally disabled. I don’t know where to go from there, but I’m proud to say that this experience has at least taught me to be honest with myself and others about such a simple, yet difficult thing to admit.

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