The Criminalization of People with Mental Health Problems: Struggling Towards More Effective Responses

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Mental Health Courts, Criminalization, Mental Illness and Crime, Law and Policy, Support, Psychiatric Facilities, Societal Responses, Community Based Resources, Neglected Social Issues


People with mental health problems (as well as those with other mental and physical disabilities) have never been supported in ways that maximize their prospects for recovery and encourage their enjoyment of full citizenship. Historically, simplistic and often cruel or neglectful segregative options have been the usual societal response. Physical walls were erected, resulting initially in the creation of poor houses for the unwanted, including people with mental health problems, and eventually large psychiatric facilities, the population of which peaked in the 1950s. While the era of these warehouses has faded with successive waves of deinstitutionalization, there has never been the commensurate investment in community based resources required to reduce the residual social, legal, and economic marginalization of this segment of the population. As the Romanow Report put it, mental health has been "one of the orphan children of medicare." In the twenty-first century, against the background of chronic underfunding of the needs of mental health consumers, the criminal justice system has continued its role as the backstop for many neglected social issues, resulting in the criminalization of people with mental health problems.