Mary Rappaport 703-312-7886
Bob Carolla 703-516-7963
|For Immediate Release
12 Mar 99
ARLINGTON, VA - NAMI applauds tonight's Geraldo Rivera NBC News special "Back To Bedlam" (9:00 p.m., ET) for exposing our nation's failed mental healthcare policies that result in the incarceration rather than the treatment of hundreds of thousands of people with mental illness. NAMI hopes that heightened exposure will bring about change in the broken healthcare and correctional systems that have long been assailed by NAMI.
"This problem requires in-depth media coverage and exposure," said Laurie Flynn, executive director of NAMI. "We're not talking about a few isolated cases, we're talking about hundreds of thousands. It's easier for a person with mental illness to get arrested in this country than to get treatment."
As early as 1992, NAMI published a report, "Criminalizing the Seriously Mentally Ill: The Abuse of Jails as Mental Hospitals," that documented the disturbing trend of incarcerating individuals with serious brain disorders, usually for minor offenses. The report also presented extensive evidence of abusive conditions to which these ill individuals were subjected.
When deinstitutionalization occurred in the 1960s and 1970s, large state psychiatric hospitals were supposed to be replaced by community-based treatment programs. Instead, countless numbers of people with mental illness have been left on their own without treatment or medical attention. Many have come to the attention of local law enforcement agencies, and jails and prisons increasingly have become a virtual dumping ground for people with mental illness.
"If anything, the NBC program shows how this situation has only further deteriorated. For persons with mental illness, today's system represents a reign of terror and error," Flynn declared. "As a society, we can do better."
NAMI is pursuing the following strategies for reducing the criminalization of people with severe mental illnesses: