Like the elephant in the room that nobody talks about, there is an unchecked crimegrowing in our society. It’s not drugs, and it’s not murder- no, I’m talking about the continual and growing criminalization of the mentally ill.Within Canada’s borders, over fifteen thousand people are incarcerated on a daily average. Of that population, over half is treated for problems arising from mental illness, and thirty-five percent has legitimate mental health disorders.
That is not including cases of mental disorder that go unrecognized or overlooked by the system. The prisons in our territories have been called out for their gross negligence, more people are being charges and sent to penitentiaries that are mentally ill. That means they do not have the coping mechanisms necessary for adapting to the life of segregation and isolation that prison presents. Unfortunately, cases such as Ashley Smith illustrate how little concern our current policies and practices have in treating the mentally handicapped, rather than punishing them.
As anyone who has worked in neurological fields will tell you, it is no easy task to treat the brain. It is even more difficult to diagnose neurological disorders. As the central nexus for all mental and physical activity, the brain is a tricky organ. Beneath the gray matter lies chemical reactions and synapses that we can only understand on a quantum level. That is why it is only in the past thirty years or so that we have been able to make leaps and bounds in neuroscience. This higher understanding has led us to better recognize, diagnose, and treat an array of mental illness. However, when we take a look at the numbers of incarcerated mentally ill, the numbers are staggering.
They are also astonishing. Over half of our prison population suffers from mental health problems, which are typically aggravated in the penitentiary environment. Many are being penalized for violent offences, and almost all have served multiple sentences. Which means that not only are the mentally ill not receiving the proper treatment and care necessary for their condition and rehabilitation, they are being criminalized for something that is beyond their control.
When someone commits a violent or even non-violent crime because they have a mental disorder- it shows that they are not in total control of their facilities. They should not be punished because they are mentally ill. And make no mistake- it is a punishment. Prisons are ill-equipped by nature, to take on the responsibility of caring for the mentally ill. Institutes of this kind are designed to severely restrict the basic rights and liberties of individuals. What kind of effect do you think that has on an individual who cannot control his or her actions and/or behavior?
Prisons are intended to be damaging on the human psyche. They are not intended to be therapeutic, nor are they qualifiedly equipped to deal with those patients who require special needs. Those who have mental disorders are not criminals by choice, their condition takes that choice from them. They need our protection, not our persecution.