Colorado’s decision to prohibit the placement of people with mental illness in solitary confinement lends hope to those suffering in the criminal justice system. The horrific stories that reach the headlines (such as Evan Ebel who murdered former Colorado DOC Director Tom Clements, or the mass shooting that took place at the Aurora Mall) undermine the need to treat the underlining mental illness, and lead to the labeling of such individuals as evil. Treating people with mentally illnesses requires knowledge, insight, experience and compassion, not blind retribution. Without diminishing or trivializing the suffering of those afflicted by an individual’s action, it should be understood that punishing people with mental illnesses with solitary confinement hinders rehabilitation. It amplifies and exacerbates the underlying issues and thus produces a greater risk to the individual and greater society when released.
It should be of concern to all communities that jails and prisons have become repositories for the mentally ill. It is projected that as many as 40% of all jail inmates are Axis I (those with the serious mentally illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5) and would actually be housed in a state mental health facility if they still existed.
Today, valuable tax dollars are wasted to punish and incarcerate people who need treatment. Those who recognize this reality also understand the many social issues that can be addressed by treating mental illness appropriately: gun violence, homelessness, children in foster care, et cetera. The saddest part of all is that we incarcerate non-criminals who languish in their cells without treatment and often without even their medication.
Colorado’s decision to end solitary confinement for the mentally ill is progressive. As the Colorado’s Department of Corrections begins to address the mentally ill in correctional facilities, other municipals and people outside of the state should follow in their lead. Although ending solitary confinement for individuals with mental illness is only one step, it’s a giant step in the right direction. Communities across the nation need to begin to support legislature and urge enforcement to end the criminalization of people with mental illnesses.
To read the original article from the Denver Post click on the link below:
To learn more about solitary confinement and people with mental illness read Solitary Confinement and Mental Illness in U.S. Prisons by Jeffrey L. Metzner, MD and Jamie Fellner, Esq.