Psychosis, Mens Rea, and Criminal Conviction: Part Five of a Five-Part Series

| Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four |

Around early November of 2017 (almost three years after the incident I’ve been discussing), I found myself back in Holly Hill – this time for PTSD, and, thankfully, of my own accord.  I had just been re-admitted to a new school to finish my undergraduate degree, and I was back in a psychiatric hospital.  “Here we go again,” I thought.

I will never forget my conversation with a social worker I had after being admitted.  After briefly discussing my psychotic break three years prior, as well as the conviction that followed, she asked, “Why didn’t you just go to mental health court?” Mental health what?

Believe it or not, there are alternatives to criminal prosecution and incarceration for persons living with a mental illness – whether it be due to an accident, as in my case, or due to severe and persistent mental illnesses, as in the case of many others.  There are positive, therapeutic alternatives for interactions with law enforcement, for court proceedings, and for when one finds themselves in jail.  I will briefly mention three options, and will close with how this season of my life ended.

Therapeutic Alternatives

First, Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) programs train law enforcement in therapeutic, de-escalation techniques with the goal of safely interacting with a person experiencing a mental health-related crisis.  These programs train law enforcement officers in not only how to keep the person in crisis safe, but also how to keep themselves safe.  Research has shown that CIT-trained personnel significantly reduce the likelihood that a person experiencing a mental health-related crisis will be arrested (Borum & Franz, 2010).

Second, mental health courts exist in some counties to divert persons living with a mental illness from incarceration and into treatment.  Theoretically, this is somewhat how my own criminal prosecution proceeded.  My felonies were reduced to misdemeanors, and I was directed into supervised treatment for 18 months.  Right now, mental health courts only operate in Brunswick, Durham, Forsyth, Guilford, Mecklenburg, and Orange Counties.  If you think your county could use a mental health court, advocate!

Finally, jail diversion programs exist to divert persons who are in jail from further incarceration if they are willing to pursue treatment and if they are not a threat to the public.  Right now, the majority of persons living with a severe mental illness are in prisons rather than in hospitals; and prison officials have been quoted as being tired of doing the work of mental health professionals (Kerle, 2016).  Officials don’t want persons living with a mental illness taking up room in prisons because persons living with a severe mental illness need treatment, not incarceration.

On to the Next Season

If you’ve followed along this series and happen to be wondering how I’m doing these days, first of all, thank you for wondering.  I’m a few weeks away from finishing my degree, I hope to become an MHT at a psychiatric hospital closer to where I’m originally from, and I’m living a relatively peaceful life these days.  I believe, and have no doubt, that it has been the object of my faith that has sustained me through all these (and countless other) struggles.  He leads me, guides me, and comforts me when all seems lost.

Life is difficult, and life with a mental illness can be very difficult.  Consider where your hope is and consider what you’re trusting in.  Medications, convictions, diagnoses – all these things pass (according to my faith).  In the end, what will matter is that we loved one another in truth and in our actions.  May we all learn to love one another better.

References

Borum, R. & Franz, S. (2010). Crisis intervention teams may prevent arrests of people with mental illness. Police Practice and Research, 12(3), 265-272.

Kerle, K. (2016). The mentally ill and crisis intervention teams: Reflections on jails and the U.S. mental health challenge. The Prison Journal, 96(1), 153-161.

Written by: Jordan Parks, NAMI NC Intern