Criminalization of Mental Health Care

Prisons: America’s New Asylums

Reference: “The Treatment of Persons with Mental Illness in Prisons and Jails: A State Survey”, 8 April 2014, Treatment Advocacy Center.

Although the Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC) is motivated primarily by psychiatric treatment and psychiatric drugs, they do present some interesting facts and viewpoints on mental health care in prisons and jails.

A major part of the treatment for prison inmates (used less for rehabilitation than for managing and disciplining inmates) is a regimen of powerful psychiatric drugs, despite numerous studies showing that aggression, violence and suicide are tied to their use. One study in California reported that 73 percent of prison suicides had a history of mental health treatment (meaning psychotropic drugs.)

The TAC report, of course, does not mention the violence and suicidal side effects of psychotropic drugs, preferring to push psych treatment and psych drugs instead.

Prisons and jails have become America’s new mental asylums. The number of individuals with serious mental symptoms in prisons and jails now exceeds the number of patients in state psychiatric hospitals tenfold. The cost of maintaining these inmates in prison skyrockets when psychiatric drugs are being used.

Notice we said “mental symptoms” instead of the popular press phrase “mental illness.” This is because, while people can indeed have debilitating mental trauma, this is not in fact a “mental illness”; it is a set of symptoms indicating some root cause which has not yet been found and handled. More than likely it is a legitimate medical problem that has not been diagnosed and treated, or it is the end result of illiteracy, or it is a side effect of taking drugs — legal or otherwise.

From 1770 to 1820 in the U.S., mentally traumatized persons were routinely confined in prisons and jails. This practice was inhumane, and it was replaced by housing such persons in hospitals until 1970. Since 1970 the earlier practice of routinely confining such persons in prisons and jails has resumed. So it has been known for almost 200 years that confining persons with mental trauma in prison is inhumane, yet this is now the current state of affairs.

In 2012, approximately 356 thousand inmates with mental health issues were confined in prisons and jails. On the other hand, only 35 thousand were in state psychiatric hospitals. In Missouri, it is estimated that 20 percent of the prison population has mental health issues, and this figure has apparently been steadily increasing.

TAC, in lockstep with the psycho-pharmaceutical industry, believes that providing appropriate treatment for inmates with mental health issues is the administration of psychiatric drugs.

Unfortunately, in TAC’s view, a prisoner can object to treatment with psychiatric drugs. Thus, the primary purpose of the referenced paper is to examine how psychiatric drugs can be forced on prison inmates without their permission. They call it “treatment over objection,” and it has its own mental diagnosis as justification.

This diagnosis is called “anosognosia,” from the Greek a + nosos + gnosis, meaning not + disease + knowing. In English terms, it means “ignorance of the presence of disease.” In other words, a person who refuses treatment (in this case a prison inmate refusing psychiatric drugs) is diagnosed with anosognosia as a justification for forcing treatment on the person against their will, since they are obviously ignorant of their own diseased condition.

In 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court (Washington v. Harper) held that an inmate with mental trauma need not be imminently dangerous before being medicated against his or her will, and that such an authorization may occur by administrative hearing rather than a judicial one. Thirty-one states, including Missouri, implement prison policies that allow an administrative (not a court) proceeding to force an inmate to take psychiatric drugs.

The Missouri Department of Corrections allows non-emergency involuntary administration of psychiatric drugs in cases where no immediate danger exists but the inmate poses a future likelihood of harm to self or others without treatment. The committee that authorizes this is composed of a psychiatrist, the associate superintendent, and the regional manager of mental health services. County jails may also use the same process.

The responsibility for helping people with mental trauma has gone to prisons and jails. Their primary method of treatment is psychotropic drugs known to cause violence and suicide — both when taking the drugs and when withdrawing from them. Prison violence and suicide are increasing; prison costs are increasing as more drugs are used; coercive measures are used to increase the prison population taking psychotropic drugs.

Does anyone see a problem with this trend?

FIND OUT! FIGHT BACK!

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