The Scholar: St. Mary's Law Review on Race and Social Justice


James R. Walker


This Comment advocates for the release of jailed persons arrested for nonviolent crimes due to the symptomology associated with their mental illnesses. Mentally ill misdemeanants suffer from severe and persistent mental disorders, usually either a psychotic or mood disorder, without symptoms or a diagnosis of a personality disorder. Due to the increase in arrests of individuals with mental illnesses, jail and prison populations are drastically increasing. These institutions have turned into modern mental hospitals or asylums. Criminalization of the mentally ill occurs because increasing numbers of mentally ill persons who commit minor crimes are subject to more frequent arrests. The most widely accepted reason a person with a mental illness comes into contact with law enforcement is the failure of the mental health system in furnishing satisfactory services in the first place. Despite numerous treatments available to persons with severe mental illnesses, these individuals continuously experience the harshness which the criminal justice system has to offer. A few jurisdictions have implemented Mental Health Courts, which are similar to drug courts in that they focus on rehabilitation and getting defendants help they need. These courts, while largely successful, need implementation in more places which need them. There are too many instances of mentally ill persons committing simple, non-violent offenses and ending up in jail. Our society would not accept such disparate treatment if such treatment happened to a racial minority. Merely because it occurs to a group of people society is either unaware of, or unconcerned with, is de facto accepted.

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