The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has a special report this week called “Hidden Shame”, where they look at the presence of mentally ill people within the criminal justice system. Decades ago, people with mental health issues and little support could turn to state run hospitals for assistance with things like medication and even basic needs like a place to sleep and food. Now, those hospitals have all but disappeared and their patients have nowhere to go.
An alarming amount of jail residents across the state are on psychotropic medications, a clear indication that these inmates aren’t just a little sad or dealing with the anxiety of being locked up.
Many are arrested for nuisance crimes, crimes they wouldn’t be committing if the supports were in place to assist them in the first place. But a law violation like disorderly conduct, for example will provide them access to medications and a place to sleep at night.
The state has recently increased mental health funding. There are currently 16 mental health courts in Georgia, designed to address the specific needs of the mentally ill offender, helping them to get the supports needed without returning to jail.
Mental health courts are created to specifically address the needs of mentally ill offenders who are accused of violating laws. They draw upon many community resources like mental health counseling and even job training, to give these offenders the kind of support necessary to keep them out of jail and living a healthier, well-adjusted life.
In addition, the state has added seven ACT, community treatment teams, bringing the total number of teams to 19. These teams go into the community, taking the psychiatrists, counselors, nurses, caseworkers, and vocational counselors to the mentally ill before they violate laws and wind up in the courts.
Mental illness still has a stigma attached to it as many people within the general public have a picture in their head of what a mentally ill person acts like or looks like. What they may fail to realize, however, is mental illness is quite common and affects people from all walks of life. Often, with medication and treatment, it’s impossible to tell that someone suffers with mental illness.
Finding the resources to get needed treatment and help often doesn’t come until someone is standing before a judge and facing criminal charges. While it’s unfortunate that it could happen sooner, a judge often has the ability to really assist someone in getting the help they need.
If you are charged with a crime and you suffer from mental illness, you may have your case heard in the mental health courts. Even if that isn’t available in your jurisdiction, we might be able to help you get some of the help you need.