Mental Health Issues in Criminal Defense Cases

Mental health

There is a large gap in our nation’s healthcare systems, and it is mental health. People often fall through the cracks of our healthcare system and end up in a courtroom. Mental health issues often result in criminal charges. This is especially true when it comes to substance abuse disorders. Drug addiction can cause a person to do whatever they have to do for money. Often, this means breaking the law.

The Problem

Prosecutors routinely seek jail time for individuals who would benefit from treatment or rehabilitation. Putting someone in jail doesn’t treat the underlying problem. Punishing people with mental health disorders and not helping them leads to repeat offenses. Also, treatment and rehabilitation are proven to reduce the chance that someone ends up back in the court system.

The number of available beds in state mental hospitals continues to decline nationwide. There is also a lack of community mental health treatment options. There are fewer and fewer resources to help people, and instead, they are receiving jail time. Studies have shown that up to 65% of the prison populations suffer from some form of mental health issue including psychotic disorders, major depression, or personality disorders.

There is another problem with the criminal justice system, a lack of education. Judges, prosecutors, and attorneys often don’t know enough about mental health issues. Training in the area of mental illness and how the law relates may be inadequate. It is impossible to help those in need if the legal system doesn’t know what their needs are.

The Solution

Obviously, there isn’t a one size fits all solution for every case. Each person’s situation is different and has different needs. However, there are a few steps that our justice system can take to help those with mental health disorders.

The first solution is an increase in training. There is mandatory mental health training for attorneys, judges, and prosecutors, but it isn’t enough. There are multiple studies that point the gap in knowledge when it comes to mental issues in criminal defense. More training for those who deal with the defense and prosecution of these individuals can only help them.

Secondly, finding new ways to deal with potential repeat offenders is a must. There are better solutions for most cases than locking people behind bars for years on end. Making people who have a disorder feel like they are morally bankrupt is a good way to make sure they repeat their crimes. After a conviction, there have to be more options available to the judge. This means building up mental health services including hospitals and drug treatment centers. In recent years there has been a push to increase the number of drug treatment beds. However, there are still more people seeking treatment than there is space for them. Addicts and alcoholics can wait for months on end for a bed in a state run facility.

Prosecuting People With Substance Abuse Disorders

Many states now have some sort of pre-trial diversion program for first-time offenders. The state uses these programs to attempt to treat the cause, which is often drug or alcohol addiction. However, there are some states that still believe in locking addicts up which does nothing to help them.

It’s the prosecution’s job to put criminals in jail, but sometimes that isn’t the best solution. Prison populations are made up primarily of drug abusers. 28 days of treatment is not only more effective than a prison term, but it is also more cost effective. Jailing an addict is a drain on the system. The high costs of housing prisoners can be offset by sending some of these people to treatment.

Not only does treatment cost less but the return to society is much higher than imprisonment. A 1994 study shows that $1 spent on cocaine treatment yields $7.48 in societal benefits. So, not only does treatment save money but it helps return money to the economy by making addicts more productive and easier to employ. Teaching addicts skills is a great way to reduce the chance that they repeat their crimes.

A Criminal Defense Attorney That Understands

It is important to find a Rhode Island criminal defense attorney that understands your situation. John MacDonald has provided representation for countless people with underlying mental health concerns. He understands that you may not have the same needs as another client. RI Criminal Defense Lawyer John E. MacDonald will aggressively defend you and help you get the treatment you need rather than being thrown in jail. If you have any pending criminal charges, contact John MacDonald immediately and learn how he can help.