Several years ago, in partnership with Dear Abby, a request was sent out in her newspaper column asking those with mental illness or family members with mental illness who had “interfaced” with the criminal justice system. I was part of a committee called Psychiatry and the Community, with the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry, and received almost 3,000 letters.
Each one was read and we decided a practical response was to develop a monograph entitled: “People with Mental Illness in the Criminal Justice System: A Cry for Help,” hopefully to be published soon with the help of the American Psychiatric Foundation (and available to the public, providers, and purveyors of care in the criminal justice system).
The demographics of the criminal justice system are devastating. In a year’s time:
The system is woefully understaffed and often poorly educated about the needs of those with mental illness.
However, a few things about the criminal justice system became apparent as I read the letters.
The document that was developed after reading this letters will hopefully offer guidance to mental health care providers on how to interact with the criminal justice system to advocate for skills development, provide training opportunities, develop partnerships and enhance care.
In addition, the final product will provide practical advice for individuals with serious mental illness and their families on how to be prepared for an interaction with the criminal justice system.
I’d be interested in hearing how y’all deal with these challenges and if these suggestions have been helpful.
This is Jackie Feldman’s inaugural blog since starting her volunteer position as Associate Medical Director. She is a family member of near and dear relatives who have experienced depression and psychosis, and the consequences of the stigma of hospitalization, side effects to medicine, and memory loss from ECT.
She is also a psychiatrist. When she retired in mid-2014, she had spent the last 24 years in community psychiatry, running a public mental health center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. In this position, she was privileged to work with thousands of individuals with serious mental illness and their family members. She was a member of the NAMI state board, a federal court monitor for the Alabama women’s prison system, and helped the Department of Justice investigate state hospitals in Georgia.
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