Criminal Justice or Mental Health System?

In an article for the Los Angeles Times, Abby Sewell highlights one individual as an example of how our nation’s criminal justice system has also become our mental health system. Following a severe head injury— which in time led to depression, followed by hallucinations and paranoid delusions—Reginald Murray was arrested after attacking a motorcyclist.

As Sewell reports, while in the jail’s psychiatric unit, Murray became more lucid and felt that he was “coming back to who he was.” But after he was sentenced to prison with no mental health facilities, Murray suffered from paranoid delusions and became even worse than before.

Sewell notes how it was fortunate for Murray that his attorney got him a hearing at the Los Angeles mental health court, which sent him to a state hospital for treatment that helped his paranoia subside. She also bookends Murray’s story with statistics showing how mentally ill offenders are all too often sent to prison instead of being diverted into psychiatric facilities to get treatment.

While some of the most violent and dangerous mentally ill defendants may be sent to prison, many should instead be diverted to mental health facilities rather than being locked up in prisons with inadequate treatment options, ultimately exacerbating their problems.

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