The other night, I was watching a report on Frontline about what happens when mentally ill prisoners are released back into society. What happens, essentially, is that, unless they are really, really lucky and get into a special shelter program for homeless people with chronic mental illness, they eventually commit another crime and end up back in prison.
Which is probably for the best.
Mouth, the disability rights mag that I read, will surely scream bloody murder, but I am just about ready to say that these people should be forced, as they are when in prison, to take their meds.
Because they do just fine when they take their meds. It is when they forget or refuse to take their drugs, as is all too common, that they get paranoid, hear the demonic voices in their heads telling them to do stuff and start committing crimes.
It is probably not nearly this simple, and I am not big on drugs, but this seems a bit like me going out without my letter board or refusing to use my motorized wheelchair. Just a bit. It’s asking for a hard time, if not trouble.
This is a catch-22 and an old argument going back about 40 years. I don’t think anyone argues that it was a bad idea to close the big mental institutions in the 1960's and 1970's, in favor of having and treating the mentally ill out in the community. But nobody says it’s good that very few or no community programs - or the monies for them - were provided.
What this means is that, as I was shocked to read recently, Los Angeles County, where I live and one of the nation’s biggest and most populous, has 100 beds for the mentally ill homeless. What it means is that, as a social worker said on the Frontline program, these people are left to advocate for themselves when they’re out of prison. What a joke - when it takes everything I have to fight for what I need!
Also seen on the program was a good shelter for the mentally ill, one of the few. Not only is it not able to force residents to take their meds, if a resident is caught with alcohol on his/her breath, s/he is kicked out for 30 days. Isn’t this when shelter and support is most needed?
One person profiled in the report ended up back in prison for 10 years. Crazily enough, I couldn’t help but think that this is for the better. At least there, for a good long time, he’ll get the help he so desperately needs.