Monday, May 26, 2008

You don’t have to be nuts, but…

Many of us would naturally think you would have to be nuts to risk prison, but apparently only half are, according to a study of the prison population in Victoria, Australia. The study has found that at least half the inmates have had some sort of contact with mental health services.

Senior lecturer at the Centre for Forensic Behavioural Science at Monash University Stuart Thomas said that data in the first 18 months of the study had shown a high number of mentally ill people in custody.

"Every second one has had some sort of contact with mental health services in the past," Dr Thomas said.” Mentally ill numbers high among prison population

Out of curiosity I had a poke around to see what was happening in other places, has the trend of closing mental facilities then loading jails with these people normal?

From Britain’s Independent newspaper: “Prison mental health services are struggling to cope as overstretched staff try to deal with rising levels of mental illness among prisoners, a major report will warn next week.” 25 May 2008

The Bonner County Daily Bee: In Idaho, as in Bonner County, the fastest way to land in jail without committing a crime is to suffer from mental illness. May 25, 2008

Mental health facility needed for young offenders CBC Canada. 23 May 2008

I admit I stopped scanning the articles after that, it is just too bloody depressing. I know here in my sub-tropical wonderland the ratio of mentally ill moving in and out of jail is just an accepted fact. In fact I’ve all but given up on a young neighbour – just 14 years old – who gets closer to juvenile detention every day.

Many of the articles I did see were crying out for intervention before jail became the only current option. A bloody pointless option if you ask me, it just takes them off the streets for a while, but does not even pretend to deal with the real issues.

We know mental facilities have rarely had a good rap; but prisons, or worse the streets, are not appropriate alternatives. We know that self inflicted substance abuse is partly responsible for many mental disorders, but so are dysfunctional family environments and consequent abuses.

In short, I’m not convinced being judgmental on the issue is appropriate or helpful. The problem seems to be widely recognised and governments must find better responses to mental illness.

8 comments:

D.K. Raed said...

this has got me thinking: is mental illness on the rise in the general population. where do people without health ins or money go for help. is commission of a crime or substance abuse a symptom of mental illness or is that that doing those things somehow bring on mental illness. certainly the prison environment itself could exacerbate mental illness.

I was in WA state when the mental hospitals were all but shut down under Reagan & still remember the busloads of obviously confused people being dropped off near the downtown mission. We have similar funding issues today. What is a caring society's role?

Perhaps we have truly earned the title, The Insane Ape? Lots of questions ...

Cart said...

DK, there are lots of questions, and I'm not sure if we are seeing an increase, beyond population increases. Certainly it is more visible under modern policy.

abi said...

DK, that's a great question - where do these people go for help?

A mental hospital around my way has just been converted to high-end condos. What happened to the former patients? Did they all suddenly get better? Or are they out on their own. Or in jail.

Cart said...

Abi, I've found some of the answers, but they are all depressing. The phenomenon appears to be common to developed economies. Sort of user pays of goes to jail...

lindsaylobe said...

According Elkhonan Goldberg who is clinical Professor of Neurology at NY School of Medicine and Director of Neuropsychology and cognitive performance the latest developments in brain research point to us needing to adopt much different approaches to society at large. Elkhonan found after independent research into over 100 non premeditated murders (non premeditated is the important aspect) in every single case the perpetrator had existing damage to the all important frontal lobes. The frontal lobes are what give us our consciousness and co ordinate information from all of the other parts of the brain; in essence they are our executive brain functions. What he found in every perpetrator without exception was damage to the frontal lobes arising previously from either a trauma related injury or from biological problems at birth. Damage to the frontal lobes does not mean these people are unable to distinguish between right and wrong, but rather in any highly pressurized environment the perpetrator will temporarily lose control to their emotions and temporarily become insane , unable to do anything but relay on basic instincts. That doesn’t mean they will kill someone, but rather they are at a high risk of irrationality and likely to become temporarily insane in any highly pressurized situation. Yet no Court would ever deem that to be the case.
I would be very surprised if the figure is only 50%; if you include such things (not usually diagnosed such as frontal lobe damage etc)as I would think the percentage would be very much higher.

Best wishes

Cart said...

Adding Neuropsychology balances some of fuzzy factors which had occurred to me. One stemmed from a comment that: Research indicates that people receiving treatment for a mental illness are no more violent or dangerous than the general population.
But the other issue is depression, common enough in wider society and considered a mental illness. I guess the hardest part in all this is defining terms. I would be depressed if I was imprisoned. Some people I know would definitely suffer severe anxiety. Those are cause and effect, surely.
The frontal lobe damage could answer the violence issue, in a wider context. But there seems to be an increase in the way severe mental illness is treated by society. Perhaps our jail system should recognise that and split into appropriate punishment/treatment divisions. I use punishment as society generally doesn’t realistically recognise a corrective/rehabilitation element.

enigma4ever said...

wow...so depressing, and here I thought that it was just an American Phenom...not...it is a cyclical problem and obviously this is not the right place for these people to get treatment or care...and obviously with each passing day....they are more damaged...

( there is another study about Brain Injuries at Birth or birth trauma- the numbers are very high for prison population...)

Of course my cheery son likes to point out many are from single parent homes..."must be the mom's fault"...he jokes..I weep...

It was good of you to research and try to learn more...so sorry about the neighbor boy...that has to be so hard...

Cart said...

Enigma, between you and Lindsay, the expansion of my simplistic understanding, there is obviously a very real problem out there.
Lindsay would probably remind us that the study here which attracted my attention was initiated by police who don't know how to handle the whole problem.
There is not much about humanity that can be reduced to simple black and white.
Fortunately for my neighbours boy- for a while at least - the local magistrate is smart enough to stall a custodial sentence.
Meantime a doctor is working hard to engage agencies enough to deal with his anti-social behaviour (the boy's not the magistrate's).
There aren't many alternatives in the end.