Friday, December 21, 2007

Prison Commissioner: Prisons Becoming Defacto Mental Hospitals

I gotta hand it to Alabama Prison Commissioner Richard Allen for having the courage to tell the damn truth when he is called upon to do so.

Earlier this week Allen met with the House Ad Hoc Committee on Mental Health where he stated the following;

The state's prisons are turning into de facto mental health treatment centers because Alabama lacks the money to provide adequate care, state officials said.

The state Department of Corrections provides mental health care to thousands of inmates each year, Corrections Commissioner Richard Allen told a legislative committee Wednesday.

"Prior to 2000, the Alabama Department of Corrections didn't consider mental health treatment part of our mission," Allen told the House Ad Hoc Committee on Mental Health.

In recent years, the state has moved many mental health patients from large hospitals to the community for treatment and has scaled back or closed the hospitals. For some patients, the changes provide care in a more natural setting.

But when the patients commit crimes, there is nowhere to send them but prison, Allen said.

"We more or less are criminalizing mental illness," he said.

The New York Times Regional Newspapers reported that the state mental health commissioner, John Houston, agreed with Allen.

"Jail becomes a default mental health facility because there are no resources to provide care," he said.

Allen said the state prison system budget will fall short by $31 million this year, and the cost of treating mental illness has contributed to that.

Houston told the committee that "the short and simple answer is get more beds" for mental health patients outside of the penal system.

The long-term answer, he said, is more treatment outside the criminal system for drug and alcohol abuse and mental illness.

"There's a huge substance abuse problem in the court system," Houston said. "It's not as simple as it seems."

That last line by the Commissioner on Mental Health is priceless. What he is saying is that courts are addicted to drug users. The courts abuse the system by prosecuting people with substance abuse problems and then stick them in a government cage that really oughta be reserved for true bad guys. Then, if the drug addict in question wasn't already dealing with some mental issues (most true addicts are) they damn sure will develop some while in prison. Keep in mind that most people arrested and prosecuted for drug use and possession are not addicts at all, but rather recreational users who had the misfortune of getting caught. They'll damn sure develop some mental issues and PTSD when placed in a cage, surrounded by rapists and murderers. So, not only are we warehousing the already mentally ill in our current prison system we are creating more mentally ill people by using prison to address substance use when the only fucking problem with using said substance is that you might get caught and go to prison for it. '

Here's another thing....drug courts in Alabama will not take a dual-diagnosis person. For instance, if someone has been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and has been arrested for drug use then drug courts won't take them. There are very few mental health courts in the state right now. So, what happens to these people?

Let me just say that I have a great deal of respect for prison commissioner Richard Allen. While I have not worked with him directly he has opened the door to my colleagues who work exclusively on prison reform and probation and parole. They have always been invited to the table as long as Mr. Allen has been Commissioner. Allen strikes me as a guy who has a lot of sense, a clear picture of just what is fucking up the prison system so bad and the balls to speak his mind and tell the truth about it. Really, we reformers couldn't ask for much more than that.

Thanks Commissioner Allen!

1 comment:

Nick said...

Being a former Alabamian and inmate who is very outspoken on this fascist hoax of a drug war our government squanders away all our tax-payers' money on,I was very surprised to find this site. Wasn't aware there were libertarian politicians in Alabama. I'll be providing a link to your blog and check back frequently. I would appreciate the same.