Mentally Ill in Criminal Justice Sysytem

Topics: Mental disorder, Crime, Psychiatry Pages: 9 (3544 words) Published: December 18, 2012
The criminal justice system ignores the mentally ill, and by not treating them differently, causes more crime and discomfort for the citizens of the United States. The term mentally ill is defined by “any of various psychiatric disorders or diseases, usually characterized by impairment of thought, mood, or behavior” (mental illness). Although there are many disorders and diseases that can fit into this definition, schizophrenia is the most significant. The focus then should be on people who have schizophrenia since “schizophrenia is the most persistent and disabling of the major mental illnesses” (World fellowship). What makes schizophrenics individuals in more need of being targeted by the criminal justice system than others is the symptom anosognosia. Anosognosia is when a person does not believe they are ill, therefore, to their understanding, any medication, especially if there is a side effect, is unnecessary (Anosognia- Fast Facts). A patient with depression can understand they need to take the medication the doctor prescribed to get better, a patient with schizophrenia and anosognia will not be able to connect that logic. Without the medication to control mental diseases, people with mental illnesses are more prone to enter the criminal justice system and use up resources. It is the criminal justice system’s duty to protect citizens while not wasting resources and when “schizophrenia is a chronic, sever, and disabling brain disorder that affects about 1.1 percent of the United States population,” action needs to be taken to minimize damage according to the National Institute of Mental Health 2010 (Schizophrenia Facts and Statistics). The problem will not go away on its own, and when ignored, tragedy happens.

One example of schizophrenia in the criminal justice system is John Bedell’s attempt to attack the Pentagon. John Bedell, who was schizophrenic, had mishaps with the criminal justice system, but was not given help and so his delusions caused him to believe that the United States government was behind the 9/11 attacks. He drove from Californian to Washington D.C. with two 9 millimeter semiautomatic weapons with the intention to save the people from the government. He pulled the guns out at the entrance to the Pentagon where he shot two police officers, Jeffery Amos and Marvin Carraway, who were hospitalized briefly (Apuzzo). An attempted attack of the Defense Department Headquarters cannot be tolerated. Even if the attempt was unsuccessful, police officers were wounded and John Bedell was killed. Schizophrenics cannot be allowed to enter the criminal justice system and leave untreated because the symptoms will get worse as shown with John Bedell. The criminal justice system had a chance to prevent this crime. John Bedell would not have gone through the effort to attack the Pentagon had he not been suffering from delusions and paranoia caused by his mental illness. The criminal justice system cannot afford to allow the same conditions to exist in mere hopes that another case, like John Bedell’s, will not emerge again.

John Bedell, however, is not the norm, although a good example of the effect of ignoring people with mental illness. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics “51% of state inmates with mental health problems were convicted of nonviolent offenses,” this means that many of the mentally ill who are locked up are not dangerous to society (The prevalence of mental health illness in US prison systems). These nonviolent crimes are putting these individuals into the criminal justice system. Many of the crimes schizophrenics are arrested for are expected of someone with a mental illness, especially if they are not getting medications. People with schizophrenia are usually arrested “for non-violent acts like disruptive behavior, loitering, or public annoyances, being in prison can aggravate the symptoms of schizophrenia,” according to Ronald Honberg legal director of the Bazelon Center for Mental...
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