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Mental Illness Here And Up North

March 21, 2024

While there is a push by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to give life sentences to people who commit 'speech crimes,' there is a large contingent of people with mental issues in our prisons and jails, who need help, but how? (Probably not LIFE imprisonment.)

 Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau grew up in luxury, having things pretty much go his way. So it is no surprise that he is promoting a law that would give judges the option of pronouncing life sentences for 'speech crimes.' Apparently his feelings are easily hurt.

I mention that only because I’ve been wrestling with the problem of the high rate of people who suffer from mental illness in our jails and prisons, many of whom say unacceptable things. The very fact that Trudeau is pushing legislation that would allow judges to incarcerate people for LIFE for SAYING something, would recommend him to be the first one to be sentenced. He clearly has no concept of what life imprisonment means. 

As the National Alliance on Mental Issues (NAMI) reports: "People with mental illness deserve help, not handcuffs. About two in five incarcerated people have a history of mental illness (37% in state and federal prisons and 44% held in local jails)." 

I understand we could do more, but it is much easier to throw stones at the criminal justice system than to actually come up with a solution. Right now in our capitol city of Indianapolis, the new jail allocates about 40% of its beds for those suspected of having mental issues. They are being helped. They are diagnosed and given appropriate drugs when necessary, but when they leave, most toss the pills into the first municipal trash can. While the program is a step in the right direction, in all likelihood, those same people will be arrested again. 

I'm sure the people at NAMI would suggest we follow up with these folks, meet family members who might encourage the person to take necessary medications, and I agree. That would be great. But the cost would be enormous. We can hardly get enough policemen and guards to handle public safety. To start following up on the 44% of people with mental issues that have been incarcerated and released from jails is, unfortunately, unrealistic.

I think most would agree that dangerous, criminally insane people belong in a mental hospital, not a jail. But what about the rest? Ask any doctor and they'll tell you that most who present as having a mental issue are generally able to function in society most days, but they struggle with bi-polar disorder, have impulse control issues, or post traumatic stress disorder, often complicated by developmental issues, and, the list goes on. It should not be a surprise that poverty, abuse, and substance-related disorders cause many of these problems, and often fuel criminal activity.

If there's an answer I don't have it. But I do know that anyone who thinks words alone can justify a life prison sentence is nuts.


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