This article was originally posted in the Santa Barbara Independent and the Families ACT website. http://www.westentech.com/fact/ It is a website for advocating the rights of dually diagnosed persons — persons with both a drug addiction and a parallel diagnosis mental illness. The jailing of such persons has become a national issue. Read on below:
Jail and Prison Not the Right Ticket for Mentally Ill
The System Is Crazy – April 2, 2009, By Rita Habera
My son is schizophrenic. About 10 years ago while he was a student at UC Davis, he began thinking he was the messiah and hearing voices from the beyond. Last September, he ran away from his board-and-care in Los Angeles and made his way to Santa Barbara, where he also used to be a student.
He lived on the streets and got arrested three times in one week. The first time was for vagrancy, the second for hitting someone. The third time was for using a credit card he found, a felony. He was sentenced to the two months he had already served in jail, and placed on three years probation.
I am my son’s conservator. I begged the court to transfer my son to a hospital instead of just letting him go, telling the judge my son was not competent to go for mental health treatment on his own. The judge refused.
Four days later, my son was found walking down a street in Montecito wearing old dirty clothing and one shoe. They tried to arrest him; he resisted and was tasered several times. He went to jail again, this time for assaulting a police officer and violating the terms of his probation.
The prosecution recommended six months in jail with the threat of three years in prison if he ever got arrested again. While waiting for the resolution of his case, my son deteriorated further because jails will not force mentally ill people to take their meds. During these agonizing six months, I’ve learned several things.
• Being mentally ill is not enough to get you sent to a mental hospital instead of jail. Santa Barbara does not have enough psych beds to hospitalize all the mentally ill people who get arrested.
• Once the jail is “caring” for you, the hospital is not anxious to assume the responsibility. Since you are in jail, you are no longer considered a danger to yourself or others, and your food and shelter are provided, so you do not meet the criteria for hospitalization. (Tell me again, who’s not acting rationally?)
• Being competent to stand trial only means that you know what a judge is and are able to sit in court without making a fuss long enough to get through the proceedings. If you cannot do this, the court will send you to the state hospital where they have a mock courtroom set up to teach mentally ill people how to behave while they are in court. Once they can do this, they are considered competent enough to face their charges and are sent back.
• What happens to a mentally ill person charged with a crime depends largely on which judge and which district attorney they get. Refusing to transfer my son to a hospital with my help and at my cost, the judge and DA handling his probation violation case suggested my son just plead guilty so he could get his sentence over with already and be released—knowing that my son would be arrested again and sent to prison.
My son returned for his next court date and got a different judge and DA just by chance, and my son’s public defender was able to convince them that he should be sent to L.A. and hospitalized until his psychiatrist and conservator felt he was safe to be released. Just like that, a nightmare ended!
• The Los Angeles County Jail is the nation’s largest mental health facility.
• We get a chance to vote at our next election on May 19 on Mental Health Funding (Proposition 1E). This is a bad idea. It will take the money designated by Prop. 63, a measure we passed in 2004 to help the mentally ill, canceling these much needed programs. This will mean less help for adults who are mentally ill. When we cut back on mental health help for people, we just pay the money instead — and more money — to keep them in jail.