As our Delray Beach and Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers know, the issue of interaction between and combination of criminal activity and mental illness or disease is an interesting one which has profound implications for our criminal justice system.
In our society, how we understand mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, etc., not to mention addiction, has evolved a great deal; we are becoming far more understanding with respect to the fact that millions of Americans deal with powerful and difficult issues such as these.
However, the sentences our criminal justice system hands out do not reflect this sort of progression and that needs to change. Instead of treating the mentally ill as if they’re hardened criminals and tossing them in jail, we need to treat them like patients and offer them hospitalization, therapy and/or other alternative forms of rehabilitation. Doing so will benefit both the mentally ill who commit criminal acts as well as the general public.
Far too often, law enforcement officers and criminal courts treat those who have ostensibly committed a criminal act as criminals, for whom the best form of punishment is incarceration or burdensome fines, etc. Frequently, though, individuals struggling with mental illnesses or diseases have little control over their behaviors or actions, and thus the root cause of a criminal act may not be criminal intent at all, but rather mental illness, over which the individual in question has little control.
Psychosis-related mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia occur for various reasons and doctors have yet to pin-down the exact causes, perhaps because there are many. Both genetic and environmental factors (a) contribute to the existence of a mental disorder such as the aforementioned and (b) trigger the associated behaviors. People with these disorders often have limited control over their range of emotions and behaviors. For example, those with bipolar disorder are prone to agitation and impulsive reactions to such agitation — such impulsive reactions, over which the individual has little control, could land them in a jail cell.
As our Delray Beach and Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers know, those with schizophrenia also struggle with issues that could lead them to be put behind bars. Schizophrenics sometimes hallucinate as part of their detachment from reality; they imagine things being present that are not really there. For instance, they might (falsely) see an intruder and, in attempting to subdue the non-existent intruder, injure an innocent bystander. How would you treat this? As a criminal assault on an innocent bystander or as a symptom of a debilitating mental illness?
Statistics show that treating the mentally ill the same way we treat other criminals does not work. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one study showed that about a quarter of state prisoners and jail inmates who have had mental health problems had previously served 3 or more prior incarcerations, while the number of inmates who did not have a mental health problem but had served 3 or more prior incarcerations was a fifth (that’s 25% vs. 20%). This demonstrates a higher degree of recidivism among the mentally ill who are incarcerated rather than treated. Because incarceration in prisons and jails is doing little to treat the underlying issues of the mental ill, the will keep acting out due to their illnesses and they will keep returning to prison or jail. We must throw away the cookie cutter approach to sentencing that we’ve adopted.
Addiction, as our Delray Beach and Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert know, is an interesting issue as well. Deemed a brain disease by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), addiction causes individuals to act out in ways they wouldn’t otherwise and to engage in exceedingly risky and criminal behaviors, either to satisfy a chemical craving for a drug or while under the influence of a drug.
If you have any questions about this issue, or if you’ve been arrested for or charged with a crime in Palm Beach, Broward or Miami-Dade County, please contact our Delray Beach and Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers at Leifert & Leifert by calling 1-888-5-DEFEND (1-888-533-3363) to schedule a free consultation. We look forward to assisting you.