Sunday, February 11, 2007

Criminalization of Mental Illness

The Imprisoning of Deinstitutionalized Mentally Ill People

Last Sunday night, CBS's 60 Minutes reported on the death of Timothy Souders, a young man with Bipolar Disorder, who was in prison for shoplifting. The major contention of the producers is that since the deinstitutionalization of people with chronic, severe mental illnesses many are being shunted into the prison system. They are not able or willing to deal with them, not sensitive to their needs. Not aware of their illnesses.

For instance, people who are diagnosed as suicidal and may cut themselves (e.g. cut out pieces of their organs), the prison staff may call "manipulative with extreme behaviors."

Here is a search from PsycINFO about the prison system and deinstitutionalization.
(Remember you'll have to be logged into the library either by its proxy system or the VPN to access these articles.)

Frontline has a program (you can watch online) called The New Asylums, along with a website with more indepth interviews and research material.

I understand this response and the feeling that we might want to reopen or find havens for chronically ill people, but I also worked at a state mental hospital during graduate school. Horrible events occurred there.

If we do decide to find homes for people who are severely ill, we need to think hard about how to make them good places for the patients/residents living there and the staff working there. The working conditions at the state mental hospital took control and dignity away from the staff. Of course the residents suffered. There was a reason the State Hospitals were closed in the first place. It wasn't only because the drugs seemed to be miraculous. It was also because the hospitals appeared to be hellish.

Some books to look at:

Deinstitutionalization : promise and problems
San Francisco : Jossey-Bass, c2001.
EDUCATION LIBRARY -- -- RA790.A1 N43 no.90

The role of the state hospital in the twenty-first century /
San Francisco : Jossey Bass, 1999.
EDUCATION LIBRARY -- -- RA790.A1 N43 no.84

Baum, Alice S.
A nation in denial : the truth about homelessness /
Boulder, Colo. : Westview Press, 1993.
LIBRARY WEST -- -- HV 4505 .B378 1993

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