Friday, July 28, 2006

The status quo is unacceptable

It took five terrible years for a jury to decide that Andrea Yates was insane when she murdered her children, despite overwhelming evidence regarding the severity of her illness. She will likely spend the rest of her days in a maximum-security forensic hospital. Eric Clark will spend at least the next 25 years in an Arizona prison, where his family still struggles to ensure he receives adequate treatment. And a story from Pensacola, Florida is the latest in a mind-numbingly long list detailing the terrible conditions the mentally ill face when incarcerated.

The theme running through each of these tragedies is simple: the criminal justice system is a meager substitute for mental health care. Mental health departments across the country are failing in their missions, and are far too willing to abandon the most difficult individuals to jail cells and prisons.

So the next time you read an article about the horrendous conditions in a local jail, or an incident where a family couldn’t get treatment for their son because he wasn’t “dangerous enough yet,” ask yourself, is my mental health department doing all it can to help the most severely ill? Have they implemented AOT? Are they still relying on outdated dangerousness standards for determining who needs care? Are they advocating for change, or simply enforcing the status quo?

We’ve seen the results of the status quo, and they are unacceptable.

Labels: , , , , ,