Why addressing Mental Health Means Reforming U.S. Prison System

Our mental health system seems highly flawed – currently millions of Americans are unable to access the care they need, instead forced to bear the burden of their illnesses alone and without treatment. Yet little attention has been paid and how the role of our criminal justice system plays in this web of issues.

Over half of the U.S. prison population is mentally ill, and people who suffer from mental illness are represented in the criminal justice system at rates between two and four times higher than in the general population. Given that studies find people with mental illnesses to be no more prone to violence than those without mental illnesses, the root of this overrepresentation in prison clearly lies in our mental health system’s shortcomings. Instead of treating the underlying biological and environmental causes of these disorders, we are criminalizing and incarcerating the mentally ill.

“Most people [with mental illness] by far are incarcerated because of very minor crimes that are preventable. People are homeless for reasons that shouldn’t occur, people don’t have basic treatment and they get into trouble because of crimes of survival.” Bob Bernstein, the Executive Director of the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law.

Because prisons were never designed to serve as mental health facilities, today they find themselves entirely unprepared to handle the mass quantity of people with mental illnesses that populate the system. Prisons generally fail to address the underlying issues that confront people with mental illness, often even exasperating these conditions.

Moreover, our broken prison system is a huge drain on America’s economy. The government currently spends over $70 billion per year on corrections.

February 8, 2012
by Rachel Howard
For full text see http://thinkprogress.org/health/2013/02/08/1561341/mental-health-prison-reform/

NAMI South Bay Leaders Representing Families in Sacramento

NAMI South Bay leaders Paul Stansbury and Sandy Villano have been selected to serve on the MHSOAC (Mental Health Services Act Oversight and Accountability Commission). The MHSOAC oversees the Adults and Older Adults Systems of Care Act; Human Resources; Innovative Programs; Prevention & Early Intervention Programs; and the Children’s Mental Health Services Act. The Commission replaced the advisory committee which had been established pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code Section 5814.

Paul Stansbury serves on the Financial Oversight Committee, which provides MHSOAC reports, proposed policies and recommendations regarding anticipated Mental Health Services Act revenue cycles, as well as strategies and roadmaps to expand services by timely expenditure and leveraging of funds. (Committee 2013 Charter.)

Sandy Villano serves on the Client and Family Leadership Committee, which ensures “the perspective and participation of diverse community members reflective of California populations and who have lived experience of severe mental health issues, including their parents/caregivers and family members, is a significant factor in all MHSOAC decisions and recommendations.” (Committee 2013 Charter.)

MHSOAC’s Mission:

Provide vision and leadership, in collaboration with clients, their family members, and underserved communities, to ensure Californians understand mental health is essential to overall health. Hold public mental health systems accountable. Provide oversight for eliminating disparities; promote wellness, recovery and resiliency; and ensure positive outcomes for individuals living with serious mental illness and their families.