To The Reader's Forum:
Our county's inability to provide regular counseling and therapy to inmates in our jails seems counterproductive.
The purpose of our justice system is to sanction those who violate laws with criminal penalties, while providing rehabilitation efforts. Its function is not simply to keep inmates off the street until their time is served; that does nothing to disrupt the cyclical nature of criminal offense. Yet, our community cannot reasonably expect inmates to emerge as economically productive individuals when the system has failed to fully address mental health, the leading cause of disability in the United States.
Some argue, however, that jails are not health spas or rehab centers, and that our "entitlement society" mindset is granting lawbreakers perks and privileges at the expense of taxpayers. Ultimately the question our community must answer is, "Are those who have committed infractions against society less deserving of access to health resources?"
Much of the debate stems from the stigmatism surrounding mental illness. According to NIMH, one in four adults suffer from a diagnosable disorder. Despite this prevalence and the availability of therapies and medications, these illnesses are not always publicly perceived as legitimate conditions. These negative perceptions hinder open discussion about mental health topics and drastically reduce an individual's willingness to seek diagnosis and treatment.
To address these problems within our county jail system, efforts must refocus on the intended purpose of the justice system. Even beyond that scope, there is strong need to reevaluate our community's sensitivity to mental health, starting with awareness.
For information, please visit the National Institute of Mental Health's website at www.nimh.nih.gov.