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August 18, 2012

Essay Paper on Mental Health Issues and Criminal Justice System

11:26 AM

Case Studies in Mental Health Issues
The criminal justice system in America is confronted with a plethora of problems arising out of mental health concerns. Majority of the criminals and offenders commits crime after being pushed too hard psychologically. The first and foremost challenges that criminal justice faces today is the budget cuts in the mental health programs for prison inmates, lack of effective corrective measures, and ineffective social control. The ineffective handling of mentally inmates largely due to budget cuts in mental health programs has become a cause for concern. The recession that hit the United States particularly and other first world countries had fully taken its toll on the mental health programs in prison. As a result, the mentally retarded or ill inmates are vulnerable to committing suicides making the problems for the government all the more compounded. They are not treated well due to scarcity of funds allocated to mental health programs and are eventually forced to lead a horrible life with no end or aim in sight. An effective program to deal with mental health must be in place so as to prevent a new Aileen Wuornos from creeping out her nutshell and avenge the society for her psychological and emotional deficiencies.
As a matter of fact, in most of the prisons in America, the superintendents, inmates and other concerned officers cite the ineffective handling of mental health programs as due to budgetary cuts. This has become a pressing issue. According to the security staff, the reduction in drug treatment programs and academic and vocational training and classes has led to a significant increase in the mental illness, violence and frustration on the part of the inmates.  Between 1991 and 1998, the state cut more than 1,200 positions in the program. Meanwhile, the prison population of about 56,000 inmates rose to more than 70,000. Although the department argues that education has risen by 9 percent between 1995 and 1999 (4 per cent of the prisoner population during this period in comparison, the steep job losses in the program position particularly instructors, librarians and consultants at the beginning and mid-1990s have had a corrosive and durable impact.
At Great Meadow Correctional facility, for example, a maximum security prison for men in 1680 vocational training programs have been reduced from 17 in 1990 to 6 in 2000.
Approximately half of the inmates, about 800 men, were not included in programs, vocational training or university during in fall 2000. Over 125 prisoners have been on the waiting list for GED preparation classes in power. The prison library was closed for over a year because of budget cuts.
The researchers locate a relationship between state spending on mental health and the possibility that inmates will not be able to deal with a serious mental illness due to the lack or inadequate treatment facilities in prison. Consequently, the number of insane and psychologically unstable criminals will continue to increase.

A case of Aileen Wuornos

The case of Aileen Wuornes is reality check for the criminal justice system in America. It typifies the almost-clich├ęd argument that abuse, financial and emotional insecurity, mental health issues breed crime. What led Aileen Wuornos to be recognized as the fist women serial killer has multi-faceted reasons and aspects.  The case of Aileen Wuornos provides us an insight into the loopholes of the criminal justice system and society at large.  

As a matter of fact, she was not the only of first woman to have killed various people in spree. Her case gained attention from FBI solely because it was befitting to the FBI’s definition of a serial killer. According to this definition, a serial killer is criminal who kills more than three people and whose victims are strange and allows sometime to elapse between each killing. Her teen-age parents had separated even before her birth.
Genetically, she had inherited the propensity for alcoholism, aggression, and below average IQ. She opened her eyes into a family in which it was quite difficult to prognosticate a respectable future and life for her. In other words, she was more inclined to involve herself in criminal activity as her family history suggests.  She saw a family which was secret and most of all hostile towards her. Her family peers, and neighbors humiliated her in adolescence.(Gardner, 1990)    
As a result, she could not learn the importance of people, property, and self-esteem or the value of social control which an individual learns for a relationship with society.
“Developing negative characteristics instead of positive ones, never learning societal norms, inheriting destructive traits – either through genetics or through the environment into which she was born - made her much more likely than her peers to engage in deviant behavior and crime (Nagin & Paternoster, 1994).
Lee adopted the habit of smoking and shoplifting at a tender age of 10. By the very next year, she had turned into an inveter-ate liar and demonstrated a sweltering, enduring, and volatile temper only to scare everyone particularly her peers.  She was known to burst into a rage, the prompt known only to her, causing many people to refer to her as “Jekyll and Hyde” (Russell, 2002, pp. 21, 87). Due to her extreme mood swings, as well as the volcanic rage she showed she did not have a sizeable circle of friends.  
Though there was never any documented proof, her few friends and siblings supposed that Lee had her first sexual experience sometime between the ages of ten and twelve. Because Lee herself was wont to lie about anything, it is unclear with whom she had that experience. Al-though some, including Diane, thought that Lauri might have sexually abused her, there was never any proof of sexual abuse or molestation of Lee as a child. One thing that was common knowledge however, at least among their peers, was that Lee was intimate with her brother, Keith (Russell, 2002).
She chose her targets randomly and give a gap of few days or months before killing another person. Quite interestingly, she did not have an iota of personal knowledge about the victims she would inflict her rage upon. The victims were total strangers. They all were middle-aged or older men who stopped to pick up Wuornos as she hitchhiked on Florida highways. She killed all of them with multiple gunshots.
According to James Fox, a leading national expert on serial killings, Wuornos came to have herself recognized as the first woman who sought strangers as victims resembling highly publicized male serial killers such as Ted Bundy. "She was the first female to kill in the predatory style of male serial killers."(Dodge, 2000)
The reasons and basis for her deviant and criminal behavior goes beyond the ordinary and nitty-gritty details of what criminal justice system has about.  Needless to say, she had lived a tormented childhood which provides a basis for her initial insistence that she murdered men in self-defense against rape and robbery. She can be said to be strong woman rebelling against male violence.  Other analysts were fascinated by her professional details as a sex worker and her relationship with a lesbian lover and her open defiance of authority and criminal justice system.
Remorselessly harsh and fuming, she yelled at judges for several times and once called the jurors who convicted her "scumbags of America" as she was escorted from the courtroom. While Wuornos was in jail awaiting her trial, a self-described born-again Christian couple from North Florida adopted her, yet again drawing attention to the serial killer.
In 1996, her appeal to Supreme Court was rejected and in 2000 she declared to decline any possibility of further appeal against her death sentence. She petitioned the Florida Supreme Court for the right to fire her legal counsel and stop all appeals, saying, "I killed those men, robbed them as cold as ice. And I'd do it again, too. There's no chance in keeping me alive or anything, because I'd kill again. I have hate crawling through my system...I am so sick of hearing this 'she's crazy' stuff. I've been evaluated so many times. I'm competent, sane, and I'm trying to tell the truth. I'm one who seriously hates human life and would kill again." A defense attorney argued that she was in no state for them to honor such a request.(Kemp,2007)
All in all, she posed dangers not only to the people (her victims especially) but also the entire criminal justice system.  The mental health issue was a problem and influenced the outcome of the case. She herself had developed hatred for her life, human beings, and those who were prosecuting her case. In the end, she was executed to death with an injection of poison.

Recommendations for effective strategies and practices
Since 1980, the country’s overall confinement rate has increased alarmingly. As of July 2001, there were 1.2 million state prison inmates and 150,000 federal prison inmates. Since 1990, this reveals a 75% surge in state inmates and a 100% rise in federal inmates (U.S. Department of Justice, 2000). Researchers observed that individuals with mental illness were detained more frequently than the general population (7.2% versus 1.7%). Consumers with substance abuse histories were even more likely to be arrested (14.4%) (Scott, 2009).
Persons with mental illness who cross the threshold of the criminal justice system have already had considerable previous involvement. The fraction of jail inmates with six or more prior sentences is 30.8% compared to 25.6% for inmates with mental illness. They experience unpleasant incarceration that further adds to their mental and psychological woes. Inmates with mental illness are commonly not accepted increasing the risks of discipline issues on their part arising out of their mental illness and symptoms.  State prison inmates with mental illness are handed down sentences that amount to about 12 months longer than the sentences of other prisoners on average. (Scott, 2009).
To make the matter even worse, generally correction officers mistake the behavior of mentally ill inmates for disciplinary problems instead of approaching it in clinical terms. The inmates who maim themselves or try to commit suicide are let off with a disciplinary warning on the charges of inflicting self-harm. Correction officials bring into play a procedure of ever more unkind punishments, such as extra time in lockdown, in a bid to reinforce discipline among the mentally ill inmates who act quite weirdly. Inmates who fling or at times even threaten to toss bodily fluids or take part in other germ-infested acts are placed on a more restricted diet such as that of the loaf.  Consequently, the three servings of a day for them are reduced to mere tasteless and dense bread as their diet for a week.
Given these ruthless conditions, the results are not startling requiring any justification. The recent study of Poughkeepsie Journal discovered that a lopsided number of suicides were committed in disciplinary lockdown. Between 1998 and 2000, 54% of prison suicides took place in special housing units. It must be noted that this rate is 14 times higher than the suicide rate among inmates of general population. (Miller, 2011)
The research shows that the long-term mental treatment programs in prison have proved to be effective because the continuity of such programs help the inmates in overcoming their anguished mental state and leap back to the normal life. It also prevents them from further engaging themselves in crime and other drug addictions.
 But the Governor’s budget proposes, in the aftermath of recession, to end contracts with the external agencies such as Phoenix who provide community-based drug treatment program.  The statistical analysis report prepared by TAC noted that as many as six states were aiming to spending most on mental health but on the contrary, most of the states were having mentally ill criminals in jails and prisons. TAC has come up with recommendations that can help the state and jail officials to mitigate the quandary of the mentally ill criminals.
They call for assisted outpatient treatment, that is to say, the mentally ill people must be given medications under the court order and as a pre-requisite condition for their survival in the community. It will also reduce the rate of suicide among mentally ill inmates.  The mental health programs should come in place and give offenders a choice to choosing between preferring to go to jail or mental treatment programs.
The Department of Justice and Institute of Medicine should work in closer relationship with each other as they can decrease the number of mentally ill people suffering in jails. They also demand that the Medicaid Institute for Mental Diseases (IMD) be repealed since this would allow for more federal funding for the treatment of mentally ill criminals.  


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