Addiction Treatment: Incarcerating the Mentally Ill


I’m not exactly sure what people think goes on behind the doors of their local jailhouses, but it certainly isn’t counseling. Jails in the US have become institutions for profit. The less money they spend on those incarcerated persons, they happier they are. The more frequently they can keep those folks coming back, the more opportunities they have to make a profit. All locking up addicts and the mentally ill really does is to create a cyclical environment in which the addicts/mentally ill offend, are incarcerated, are released, reoffend, are re-incarcerated, and round and round we go.

Let’s face it, we do little here to address mental illness and addiction. I think we might have some utopian dream that inside the walls of our jails, inmates attend counseling, work out their problems, and are then fit for society once again. If this were true, we wouldn’t have a word called “recidivism”. Unfortunately, the ugly truth is that the “programming” attended by inmates in our county jails is usually a church service, some low-level schooling, or listening to another addict who has volunteered to speak to them. Hardly ever is there anything in the way of professional counseling. In fact, most of the time, the only “counseling” addicts/mentally ill persons receive is career criminal training. Many offenders go into jail with a B.A in Marijuana and come out with a PhD in Meth or Heroin. I seriously know one man who learned to be a meth cook while he was in jail—something he’d never dreamed of doing before.

Why would someone come out of jail only to commit more crime? Felons are mostly unemployable. So the guy with the aspiration to come out of jail and start over clean and clear are squashed. If a person can’t get a job to support their families or themselves, what are they supposed to do? They reoffend, and the system often sets them up to fail from the start.

I don’t know anyone who would pick prison over house arrest, but they probably should. For the average person, house arrest is an expensive venture that can lead to a longer incarceration than if they’d simply served their sentence. With the original sentence, often the offender will get a 1 day equals 2 credit. So, a 4year sentence is 2 years. When they’re assigned house arrest, they might serve only 2 years in the comfort of their homes, but the cost is outrageous, the rules are stringent, and in no way does this keep an addict or mentally ill person safe from their own bad decisions. If at any time the offender falls behind in payments, they’re subject to revocation. If at any time a home search or random drug test finds them in possession or to have used drugs, they’re subject to revocation. In case these public service workers haven’t figured this out, left to their own devices, newly recovering addicts will use. SHOCKER, I know. People who are fighting addiction and mental illness need constant counseling and guidance—something the courts do not afford most people on the long term. How, then, do we keep mentally ill and addicted people out of prison?

We need to remove the profitable aspect from incarceration. Greed is part of the human condition. By allowing some very greedy persons to decide they should profit from not only hardened criminals, but from the mentally ill and addicted, we perpetuate rather than cure those problems. We cannot allow the powers that be to line their pockets with the blood of our loved ones and friends.

Furthermore, we need to pull the mentally ill and addicted back from the margins and into our arms. No. We cannot let people rob us blind, ruin our lives, or harm us, but we have to let them know they, too, have a place outside the walls of a prison in our society. They must know they are valued, loved human beings. We must give them all the help they will allow us to give, and mind you, I’m aware we have to protect ourselves from the harm they might bring to us, but we still must be tolerant and accepting. Our ailing population of mentally ill and addicted people is not the enemy. They do not deserved to be pushed to the fringe and forgotten. We must remember that those who need us most are probably those we understand the least. Let the human condition show more than our greed. Let us also show that beautiful part of humanity that is our open arms. We can continue to  live in a delusional world where we tell ourselves “we’re doing all we can,” or we can work to change the way we view people who are not criminals, but rather are  sick.

(Side note: School systems think they address addiction with random drug testing, but listen up parents: When your child fails that drug test and is pulled into the principal’s office, they give up their constitutional rights. Anything they say will be used against them. They do not have the right to be questioned with mom or dad present, nor do they have the right to legal counsel. They will be coerced into signing a confession for “school use”, and then the school officials will contact the police. The signed confession will then land in the hands of the police, and be used as evidence in the criminal arrest of your child. DO NOT for one second believe this is going to be a counseling session for your child. Once your child has become a criminal, they cycle has begun. Do not allow this to happen. Advise your children to admit and sign nothing!)

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