Imagine you are a student in university. You are facing the challenges all students experience. The stress from schoolwork. The stress to make friends. The stress of trying to fit in. But on top of it all, you have been battling anxiety and depression. At some point, you break and think “I just cannot do this anymore.” The suicidal thoughts take over your entire being and all you want to do is talk to someone about your emotions and fears, so you reach out to teachers or administrators. Then you receive this message from your university. “It is important that you refrain from discussing these issues with other students and use the appropriate resources. If you involve other students in suicidal or self-destructive thoughts or actions you will face disciplinary action.”
Domestic violence is experienced across genders, races, ages, and sexual orientations. Mental health and domestic violence are inextricably linked. Survivors of domestic violence often experience an array of mental health issues including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, substance abuse, anxiety, personality disorders, sleeping disorders, eating disorders, and social dysfunction. The effects of domestic violence on the entire family can have dramatic legal and educational consequences, and subsequently break up families, if they are not dealt with vigilantly and compassionately.
iustitia’s Mental Health Courts Initiative strives to better understand the role of these specialty courts and the effects on the individuals in the system. Because of her experience in a new mental health court in Memphis and her penchant for honest assessment, I asked Public Defender Kelly Pretzer to discuss experience with the system in Memphis, Tennessee, her frustrations with it, and why she thinks this is an important—albeit very rudimentary—step forward for criminal justice.
Individuals with mental illness, psychologists, and activists yet again are forced to reiterate that mental illness does not lead to violence against others. iustitia has commented on why focusing on mental illness in the wake of mass shootings is dangerous and risks stigmatization. But there is a mental health connection in police involved shootings that has constantly evinced media coverage and consequently, solutions. This narrative serves to conceal a brewing crisis that must be unmasked and that lies at the intersection of police-involved shootings and mental illness.
In response to the increase of OIF/OEF veterans entering the criminal justice system, a handful of courts across the nation began to form veteran-specific court programs. In 2011, the Veterans Treatment Court at the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas (Veterans Court) in Pennsylvania was established.
As of January 2017, Denmark will be the first country in the world to declassify “being transgendered” as a mental illness. This move is monumental for transgendered people in Denmark. However, it also opens the path for other nations to uphold transgendered rights and enables the international community to take a stand. Denmark hopes this move will help to decrease the institutionalized stigmatization of trans people.
Despite great efforts by the Veterans’ Administration and veteran-led non-profits to provide mental health care for veterans, the stigma remains in insidious ways. The implicit encouragement of veterans to remain mum about mental illnesses is particularly troubling when one considers that the rate of mental illnesses among veterans is more than double that of average Americans. So, why is the Department of Defense tacitly promoting a culture of silence around mental health counseling and disadvantaging those who seek counseling in promotions and security clearances?
The heightened mental health concerns associated with adopted children unfortunately lead to many failed adoptions, often referred to as “disrupted.” Failed adoptions drive a disturbing underground phenomenon—the “private re-homing” of children, arranged online and with little to no government regulation. Adoptive parents, finding themselves overwhelmed and unequipped to deal with behavioral issues stemming from their adopted children’s mental health conditions, take to the internet—forums on Facebook or message boards on Yahoo, for example—to find a new home for the child, much like you would see for a family pet. The practice has become an underground lawless market for unwanted adopted children.
Congress empowered the Bureau of Justice Assistance, in coordination with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), to establish the Mental Health Courts Program. This program seeks to implement collaborative efforts that bring improvements to the treatment of criminal offenders with mental disabilities or illnesses. Mental health courts, a relatively recent phenomenon, involve a partnership between judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys to deal with nonviolent offenders who have been diagnosed with a mental illness or co-occurring mental health and substance abuse disorder. The goal of these courts is to provide courts with resources to improve social functioning of clients with disabilities by offering treatment as an alternative to the prison system.
The U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibits the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment. This provision of the Eighth Amendment embodies the “broad and idealistic concepts of dignity, civilized standards, humanity, and decency.” Jackson v. Bishop, 404 F.2d 571, 579 (CA 1968). In Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the government has an obligation to provide medical care for incarcerated individuals. The Supreme Court noted that the denial of such care could result in pain, suffering, torture, or death.
Section 7105 of Title 22 of the U.S. Code, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), a provision enacted in 2005 to specifically protect trafficking victims, entitles individuals to education and training for trafficked persons, promotes safe integration into appropriate communities, and provides physical and legal assistance, including immigration benefits.