The prison system that currently exists today offers a retribution measure instead of corrective actions to assert and ensure that the convicted assailants, after serving their prison time, could go back to the community as responsible individuals. While this is the case, a documentary featured in 2005 and 2009 documents a different role of prisons. Aside from housing convicted individuals, it also serves as a modern day asylum for mentally-ill individuals convicted of committing a crime against society.
I am writing this memo as my personal take on the existing problem regarding the release of convicted mentally-ill individuals to the society after serving their time in prison as punishment to the crime that they have committed. For better expression of my case, allow me to summarize the two documentaries that deals with this issue and provide my personal evaluation and recommendation on what is to done partially to relieve the problem of the existing impact that it has to the system as well as the society.
Summary of the documentaries
In 2005, a groundbreaking documentary entitled The New Asylum went deep into the situations in the Ohio correctional facility system. The five-part (chapter) documentary narrates how a large number of mentally-ill patients are currently within the confines of different correctional facilities all across the US. An alarming statistics reveals that while there are 55,000 mentally-ill patients are receiving treatment in accredited and duly licensed psychiatric institutions almost ten times this figure are serving their time in jail. That means that over 500,000 individuals who are serving their time in prison had been diagnosed with mental health illness.
In 2009, a follow-up to this documentary was initiated. This time, this new documentary bore the title The Release. In this 54 minutes documentary, the focus was directed on the inmates diagnosed with mental health condition who were released from prison because the correction facility administrators believed that they had already served their time in prison. Failing to take into consideration their mental state upon the release.
The documentary opened with the case of Jerry Tharp, along with a brief opening statement that highlights the statistics of mentally-ill inmates who were set to be released during the filming of the documentary. The narrator noted that the US has been facing the largest exodus of prison inmates in the whole history of the prison system. According to the narrator about 700,000 inmates, that year was scheduled to be released at the time of documenting the short documentary. An even more alarming and pressing issue that relates to this is that almost half of these inmates are diagnosed to have an existing medical condition. While many viewers are not too excited about this, the prison facilities and the people behind these institutions seem to see no reason to be alarmed. More so, it seemed that they are even happy about this. It is quite understandable considering that many of the correctional facilities are highly congested. Thus, even those who have not exactly finished their term are being set free under parole, if only to relieve the congestions of prison facilities.
Based on the documentary, The Release, an inmate who was diagnosed with mental health condition is released from prison with a bus ticket, starting money of $75 and exactly 2 weeks’ worth of medication. An alarming findings revealed that a fraction of these released mentally-ill inmates, approximately two-thirds of which, will go back to prison after committing yet another crime. And this is usually only after 18 months after their release.
The documentary followed the story of a few incarcerated who was diagnosed with mental health illness and were eventually released from prison. The first mentally-challenged inmate was Jerry Tharp who was diagnosed to have schizophrenia. During the interview, Tharp admitted to his doings. He openly admitted that he was a threat to society as he was a threat to himself. In fact, Tharp did mention that there were several times that he tried to physically harm himself by ingesting different things including razor, pens, inks, bed hooks and even cassette tapes. Though he did not know that there was something wrong with him, he knew he was destroying himself physically and psychologically. He was told at that time that he was suffering from a mental health problem known as schizophrenia when he was hospitalized at the age of 16 years old. He said after that, and he underwent the series of cycles where he had episodes which he classified as “mind snaps." He remembered that this happened when he failed to take his medication, for which he was under Thorazine. Later on, he refutes this diagnosis and state that his was not mentally-ill. Rather, Tharp believes that he was suffering from spiritual illness or spiritual insanity. Despite, Tharp’s certainty that he was not coming back to prison he was rearrested for robbery three months after his release. Again, Tharp failed to take his medication and went back to experience the symptoms from his condition.
Another former inmate, Michael Grissett was one of released prisoner who was diagnosed with mental illness. Like Tharp, Grissett suffers from a type of schizophrenia called paranoid schizophrenia. Grissett was sent to prison with a sentence of 21 years for the crime of murder. According to Grissett, he was hearing some voices telling him to do illegal stuff. Following his release in 2008, Grissett was lucky that he was not rearrested. Grissett was among the fifty offenders who have not been rearrested after being admitted to a reentry program in Cleveland. This reentry program helps previously incarcerated to have a proper and well-adjusted transition to the community following their release from prison. The program was specially designed for people with severe mental health condition and is required to take anti-psychotic medications to prevent the onset of the episodes they previous experienced and eventually function normally into the society.
There were several other different cases of incarcerated individuals who are also categorized as mentally-ill individuals. However, instead of being admitted in psychiatric health facilities they are being detained in a correctional facilities because the government and the criminal justice system deemed it best that they are locked up to serve their prison sentence. After they serve their sentence, like any normal prisoner they will be released to the society. However, the system failed to realize that they are still a threat to the community because the primary reason that they committed that crime has not been fully resolved.
Implications of the existing problem and Recommendation
It without a doubt that the purpose for which correctional facilities are established is because of the concept of retribution. This concept exists because the society believes a wrong action deserves to be punished. From a psychological perspective on the concept of reward and punishment, a renowned psychologist B.F. Skinner asserts that the a punishment is only effective under certain conditions. As with the case of the criminal justice system, incarceration is a form of punishment (Carver & White, 1994). People have this perception that as social animals we need others in order to effectively function in the society. Isolation is considered as the ultimate punishment because it deters individuals from exercising one of their human functions—relating with other people as freely as possible.
Our justice system adheres to the principle of fairness and equality. It is a principle that specifies that every person is entitled to his and her rights. That includes convicted criminals just as well. The justice system believes that everyone is entitled to be given a second chance and that the system can facilitate for changes in an individual’s behavior. That includes altering their negative behaviors after having been able to serve some time in jail. However, by simple analogy one could easily assume that this assessment is not absolute. In fact, many offenders despite serving some time in prison are often caught again either for the same crime or a different one. In lieu with this, it is thus safe to assume that this system is not exactly effective. In fact, it can only assume that the people who developed this system are idealistic, or they lack better judgment as far as analogy is concerned.
While we may not contest the effectiveness of this measure for normal individuals, we have greatly to consider that perhaps despite the absence of a diagnosis anyone who commits a crime is not exactly in a sound mental state. Normal individuals would rationalize before doing an action. For example, if a person kills someone one could not say that it was a normal reaction. In fact, despite being angry a normal human being would not contemplate of killing another person. Only a person who is not in a sound mental state would brutally kill another person because reason would automatically dictate that killing be wrong.
The point is, provided for the sake of argument that criminals are not exactly mentally ill, and there are only a number of mentally ill patients who are incarcerated, then it could only mean that the prison is not the proper venue for them. Their rightful place is in a psychiatric facility, an asylum or mental health institution where they can be properly treated. Mentally ill individuals require medical treatment as with the rest of individual suffering from a medical condition. If, for the purpose of argument, one would like to apply Skinner’s principle of reward and punishment then, a criminal or an offender should be locked up in prison and served their sentence. However, after serving their sentence, these people should be admitted to a mental institution where the proper medical attention can be provided for them.
One should consider that these people with mental illnesses are incarcerated because they acted out a tendency that is usually associated with their medical condition. If the system would just lock them up in prison without giving them the proper medication or treatment for their condition, then they are not addressing the cause of the problem. Instead, they are diverting the attention of the people to what is truly causing the problem.
Prisons are not the place to provide treatment. Should one contest that mentally ill patients are being given medications while incarcerated, then a counter argument for that is that it is not enough. Police officers are not medical professionals. Police officers do not have the right training nor the expertise to treat people with a medical condition. Mental illness is a medical health condition that requires the attention of a licensed and trained professional if the objective is to cure.
Naturally, this is the objective of the mental health institutions. It can also be the case of correctional facilities because people are incarcerated because the system believes that it will teach them a lesson and hope that the lessons they learned from prison will be significant enough to deter them from committing yet misbehavior. Prison facilities should reevaluate their objectives and their processes. A reevaluation of the objectives would bring the system to a realization that the reason prisons are established because it aims to rectify a wrong behavior. This is done by addressing the core problem, and that is the reason the crime was committed. In the case of mentally-ill people, the objective of mental health facilities is to provide a solution that would cure or manage the effects of mental illness if cure is impossible.
The criminal justice system should realize that mentally ill individuals who committed a crime commits the crime because it was a manifestation of their illness. If this is not managed or cure, then nothing will deter a mentally-ill individual for committing another crime because the cause has not exactly been addressed. It was repressed momentarily, but the problem still exists and that it the issue that has to be taken cared of if the objective is to foster change and restore individuals to their previous lives prior to their incarceration.
Carver, C., & White, T. (1994). Behavioral inhibition, behavioral activation, and affective responses to impending reward and punishment: The BIS/BAS Scales. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 319-333.
Public Broadcasting Service. (2005, May 14). The New Asylum. Retrieved July 17, 2014, from Frontline: Public Broadcasting Service Website: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/asylums/view/
Public Broadcasting Services . (2009, April 28). The Released. Retrieved July 17, 2014, from Frontline: Public Broadcasting Services Website: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/released/view/