Letters at USA Today.com -Prison Issue: Lack of Care For People With Mental Illness fromm R. Sloan Wilson – Rye, N.H.

Posted: August 4, 2011 in News and politics

The dialogue about our broken prison system between conservative Cal Thomas and liberal Bob Beckel was entertaining and made some legitimate points, but it overlooked one of the biggest factors in the breakage: the criminalization of mental illness. Even the Supreme Court ruling about California’s prisons originated in the state’s treatment of mentally ill prisoners (“Jailbroken: 5 ways to fix the USA’s prisons”).

Inmates sit in crowded conditions at the California Institute for Men in Chino.
Inmates sit in crowded conditions at the California Institute for Men in Chino.

America has lost 90% of its psychiatric hospital beds since 1960, a shrinkage that has corresponded with the growth of the prison population. Instead of hospitalizing people with mental illness, many are jailed or imprisoned. By some estimates, 16% of inmates are suffering symptoms of severe mental illness.

Imprisoning people acting on symptoms of mental illness isn’t good for the people, law enforcement, jails and prisons or anyone else, and there is a sane alternative: court-ordered outpatient treatment. Involuntary treatment in the community has been found to lower arrest and incarceration rates — and costs far less than jails, hospitals and emergency rooms.

Forty-four states have assisted outpatient treatment laws. The sixth way to fix the country’s prisons is for states to make full use of laws that would provide timely, cost-effective treatment to people with severe mental illness before they end up joining the prison population.

James Pavle, executive director

Treatment Advocacy Center; Arlington, Va.

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Turn toward religion

Cal Thomas and Bob Beckel concluded their piece by discussing the influence of Charles Colson’s Prison Fellowship on turning criminals into law-abiding and productive people.

In the book More God, Less Crime, criminologist Byron Johnson proves that religion can be a powerful antidote to crime.

The book describes how congregations and faith-based organizations are essential in forming partnerships necessary to provide the human and spiritual capital to effectively address crime, offender rehabilitation, and the substantial after-care problems facing former prisoners.

Let us use our resources in a way that we can get positive results for the incarcerated in our society. The message of More God, Less Crime can greatly benefit our world.

Mary L. Pepper; Albuquerque

Stop ‘war on drugs’

It is a national disgrace that about one in every 31 adults in America is in jail or on supervised release. Cal Thomas and Bob Beckel highlight the problem and offer five suggestions to address the issue.

I have a suggestion that could reduce the numbers of people who have to go to prison and that would benefit society. It would do the following:

• Recognize a problem that should be medically treated and not incarcerated.

• Reduce crime with the cataclysmic drop in the price of street drugs, making it no longer necessary to rob, assault or kill to feed an addiction.

• Go a long way toward balancing city, county, state and federal budgets by cutting law enforcement, shrinking the need for prisons, and freeing up crowded court dockets.

Yes, it is time we recognize the absolute failure of the so-called war on drugs — with its bankrupting expense — and decriminalize drug use. America has a habit of not getting rid of things that don’t work. We can do better.

R. Sloan Wilson; Rye, N.H.

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  1. belinda says:

    my sister is in pee wee valley for women in ky and has more than one mental illness they want let us visit her because they say she’s not in a state of mind for visiters that’s a lie because i know my sister and they have her in maxium security she is only a 100 pds and 5ft she cries and talks to herself and I feel like the insolation is hurting her more. recently we found out she recieved a black eye and we have not recieved any letter’s from her recently. How can I get her out? she need’s help not prison

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