Why substance abuse and mental illness are criminalized too often

The criminal justice system should not handle people who have substance abuse and mental health disorders, but they do. The number of police officers who deal with people with these disorders is only increasing, as the number of mental health facilities decreases and addiction treatment centers remain stagnant. According to Mother Jones, between 2009 and 2012, states cut a total of $4.35 billion in mental-health spending. So, the court system and law enforcement are put in charge of dealing with these Americans, often placing them in prison, which is the wrong decision, since they really need treatment. It is one of America’s biggest social problems and it needs to be addressed, the Nation noted.

The immense rates of incarceration

Currently, America has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with approximately 2.3 million Americans sitting in jail, The Huffington Post noted. Though the crime rate has dropped, this number remains. The main reason for the high incarceration rate is the concept of the War on Drugs, which believes arresting and incarcerating those who use and distribute drugs will solve the problem. Wrong. Worse yet, many corporations and industries actually profit off of high incarceration rates.

Ignoring the problem of substance abuse

Many people who are incarcerated are mentally ill or deal with substance abuse. Sometimes, they have both, yet neither are addressed in prison. A review from KQED News of San Francisco of police shooting data found that 58 percent of the people who are shot by police officers have some sort of mental illness. Once incarcerated, the brutality often does not stop. An investigation from The New York Times found that inmates, especially those who are mentally ill, end up being routinely harassed and beaten by the prison staff.

Making the wrong choice

A lot of the prisoners who inhabit these facilities were arrested and charged for minimal crimes, such as selling marijuana on a street corner. Most often, these dealers are not kingpins, but only distribute within a very small circle of people. Then, they are caught and arrested instead of seeking the treatment they need. According to Addiction Treatment Magazine, a report from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found that 85 percent of the prison population needed to be treated for substance abuse. These individuals either met the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, had a history of substance abuse, were using drugs while committing the crime, did the crime to get money for drugs or were arrested for a drug-related crime.

Resolving nothing

Sadly, prisons usually only exacerbate the problem. Many prisoners end up learning new tricks for using drugs or end up in larger circles of drug dealers than they were before. So, the inside may actually be worse than the outside. Once these prisoners are released, they reenter the real world with a new set of ways to feed their addiction, sometimes winding up back in jail.

The homeless are no different. They, too, normally battle a mental illness or addiction, but cannot seek treatment due to lack of resources. Instead, they are locked up for vagrancy when they should be getting the help that could turn their lives around.

So, America has a large problem with the procedures behind the criminal justice system. By ignoring those who need help and choosing to lock them up, the problem will only get worse. Mental illness and substance abuse are not problems that will go away by sitting in a jail cell. People need proper therapy and other methods of substance abuse treatment to help place them on the right path, one that usually does not involve crime.

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