US Barbarism Towards the Mentally Ill: A Crime Against Humanity

This is Crazy: Criminalizing Mental Health

Brave New Films (2015)

Film Review

This documentary showcases US policies which are shutting down psychiatric hospitals and community mental health centers and warehousing America’s mentally ill in jails and prisons. It features in-depth interviews with two mentally ill women who survived lengthy incarcerations, as well as commentary by psychiatrists, mental health workers and prison reform advocates.

America’s barbaric treatment of the mentally ill constitutes a crime against humanity under international law. Sadly it’s not a new problem. Thanks to the steady cutbacks in mental health services and housing subsidies that began under Reagan, it was clear by the mid-eighties that most mentally ill Americans were ending up in jails and prisons and on the street.

In 2002, Bush junior made even deeper cuts in mental health funding to finance the wars in the Middle East. Meanwhile, thanks to the 2008 global economic scam (which effectively transferred billions in taxpayer dollars to billionaires), states cut an additional $5 billion in mental health services* and eliminated 4,500 psychiatric beds.

Police Harassment of the Mentally Ill

The documentary begins by highlighting the brutal treatment of the mentally ill at the hands of police. When I practiced in Seattle, police routinely underwent crisis intervention training that enabled them to recognize when suspects were psychotic and to appropriately de-escalate threats of violence. This training also made it far more likely mentally ill offenders ended up in treatment facilities – as opposed to jail or prison.

Thanks to ongoing budget cuts and the militarization of local policing, most cities have abandoned routine crisis intervention training. In recent years, it’s become common for cops to kill psychotic individuals when they create a disturbance on the street – either by shooting them or repeatedly tasering or beating them to death. The lucky ones end up with lengthy prison sentences.

To his credit, New York city mayor Bill De Blasio re-instituted crisis intervention training for New York cops in 2014.

Private Prisons (Housing 1/3 of Mentally Ill Offenders)Are the Worst

This is Crazy continues by examining the brutal treatment psychotic inmates receive from prison guards. There is often no effort, especially in private prisons, to ensure they receive their prescribed medication. Instead guards physically abuse them and put them in solitary confinement in a (mostly futile) effort to get them to comply.

Warehousing the mentally ill in jails and penitentiaries also rips of taxpayers – as it costs $15 billion more annually than outpatient mental health treatment.

Once mentally ill convicts are released from prison, they rarely get appropriate aftercare. Conventional probation services make no effort to ensure that they access housing or appropriate aftercare services. Many end up returning to the streets to live.

*Between 2009 and 2012.