May 26, 2014
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors recently approved construction of a new jail, at a cost of two billion dollars, only to lock up mentally ill people behind bars.
Los Angeles currently jails around 4,000 mentally ill people. These inmates have no real patient care in the jail and are horribly treated. They are frequently abused, assaulted and raped. The beating of inmates by jail guards is rampant. Suicide rates among mentally ill people are high. And such horrible conditions further aggravate their mental disorders.
When the mentally ill are released into neighborhoods, there are almost no services, and they have little or no income. Most of them are arrested all over again and locked up in jail. As explained by a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge, who presided over criminal cases for more than 31 years, “These inmates cycle in and out of lockups, often for petty violations related to their mental illnesses.... Being incarcerated is likely to exacerbate mental health problems and to increase the likelihood that inmates will commit new crimes upon their release.”
The mentally ill, like any people with biological illnesses, need treatment in a caring social environment. They also need decent jobs to survive, like any normal human being. Incarcerating them is not a solution.
But, starting in the 1970s, all the states including California closed down most of the public mental hospitals, reduced the number of treatment programs, and dumped large numbers of the mentally ill onto the streets. Thus, what few services existed were almost totally eliminated or drastically reduced.
Today, throughout the country the number of mentally ill prison inmates is 10 times the number of mentally ill people hospitalized. Thus, the behavior caused by mental illness is criminalized, like it was centuries ago.
The County of Los Angeles’ decision to spend two billion dollars more to lock up the mentally ill in jail instead of to provide hospitalization shows that this is not about to change. In this capitalist society, mentally ill people who don’t have the money to pay for their own treatment are usually either on the street or in jail. That is how much capitalist society is taking us backward to a more barbaric society.