Monday, January 15, 2007

When I was sick, did you imprison me?

Another short video from the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, this one calling for more treatment dollars instead of building new prisons, because "You can't cure an illness by locking it up."

And speaking of treating an illness by locking it up, see the article in the New York Times today from Bernard Harcourt ("The Mentally Ill, Behind Bars") on society's macro-level decision to imprison the mentally ill. Appropriately, on a day dedicated to civil rights, he argues that:
Over the past 40 years, the United States dismantled a colossal mental health complex and rebuilt — bed by bed — an enormous prison. During the 20th century we exhibited a schizophrenic relationship to deviance.

After more than 50 years of stability, federal and state prison populations skyrocketed from under 200,000 persons in 1970 to more than 1.3 million in 2002. That year, our imprisonment rate rose above 600 inmates per 100,000 adults. With the inclusion of an additional 700,000 inmates in jail, we now incarcerate more than two million people — resulting in the highest incarceration number and rate in the world, five times that of Britain and 12 times that of Japan.

What few people realize, though, is that in the 1940s and ’50s we institutionalized people at even higher rates — only it was in mental hospitals and asylums. Simply put, when the data on state and county mental hospitalization rates are combined with the data on prison rates for 1928 through 2000, the imprisonment revolution of the late 20th century barely reaches the level we experienced at mid-century. Our current culture of control is by no means new.

In Texas, 30% of Texas 150,000+ prison inmates have been clients of the state's public mental health system.

1 comment:

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I don't think anyone is advoating hospitalizing violent criminals, 800, though violent offenders with mental illness should be treated - more than half of Texas prisoners are in for nonviolent offenses.

Also, the phrase "treatment" is perhaps a misnomer for the range of programs the state currently envisions. Some of the programming supports cognitive skills building that's suitable for property offenders and other non-addicts.

For drug addicts and drunks, though, treatment options to me are preferable in most cases to prison. However fraudulent is the CSA, it isn't going away tomorrow, whereas if treatment options for these categories of offenders aren't expanded, we WILL be building new prisons soon.

Finally, I don't like the word "legalization" and I find myself frankly bored by that debate. Essentially the phrase means whatever the speaker thinks it does, pro or con, and discussions along that axis seldom progress very far. I prefer to promote on Grits politically viable solutions to current problems, starting the conversation from where we are today instead of some theoretical fantasy about where we'd like to go then working backward. I respect the Pete Guither's of the world who take a different approach, but there's room on the political spectrum for everybody.