The Over-Incarceration of People with Mental Health Issues
An estimated 80% of prisoners suffer from mental health issues. Our criminal legal system applies a"one size fits all" to a wide range of societal and personal problems, including mental illness. When our communities are in crisis and most in need of empathy and care, we send the police to their houses. When people are at their lowest and are considering taking their own lives, we force them into cop cars. When people are suffering from addiction and homelessness, we put them in jails. To make matters worse, when these people are released from prison, they are often suffering even more. The root cause of their issues has not been addressed, and they are still suffering from a serious illness. Yet we disenfranchise them, deny them access to healthcare benefits, deny them access to employment and housing, and prevent them from re-integrating into society. And even when people suffering from mental health issues are taken to the hospital, the fact that they are driven there by the police often causes them to suffer from more trauma. This issue disproportionately affects marginalized communities and people of color, who often receive even less empathy and more punishment for suffering from a disease that is out of their control. It's time that we focus on treatment and rehabilitation rather than punishment. We would never put someone who has just broken their arm in a police car, so why do we do this for people suffering from a serious illness?
Case Study: Saraya Rees
Saraya was a 14-year-old child on anti-depressants as a result of severe bullying at school. When her pediatrician abruptly took her off medication, she developed psychosis. She poured a small amount of gasoline in front of her parents' bedroom door one night. She never attempted to light the gas. The Rees family called Coos Health and Wellness expecting a crisis counselor to help, but instead police came and decided to sentence Saray to a to 11 years in the Oregon Youth Authority. She will be eligible for parole on her 25th birthday. Saraya's story is an example of the way our system penalizes people with mental illness rather than focusing on treatment. Get justice for Saraya by clicking on this text box to navigate to ways you can help.