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Mentally ill people and the criminal justice system in Arizona

For some people, the thought that any crime must be punished seems to be outweighing the reality that the root cause of the criminal action might be what needs attention. One instance in which throwing someone in jail or prison might cause more harm than good is when the person is mentally ill. It might surprise some people to learn that one-quarter of prisoners in Arizona are mentally ill.

One of the issues that plagues the criminal justice system is that so many people are sent to jail based on seemingly minor crimes. For a person who is mentally ill, even having to spend short amounts of time in jail or prison can prove devastating. This is due, at least in part, to the fact that prisons and jails don't have the facilities and programs available to help the mentally ill.

There are some instances in which a person's behavior -- behavior that might seem criminal -- could be the result of a mental illness. Issues with mental illness can lead to a person acting irrationally, which is sometimes mistaken as criminal behavior. Even when the person has a documented mental illness, the first thing that is usually done is bringing the person to jail instead of to a facility where they can get help for their mental illness or at least be stabilized.

Mental health courts are one way that defendants who have known mental illnesses can face the criminal justice system while being able to get the care they need. All counties in Arizona have these courts. If you have a mental illness or have a loved one with a mental illness, finding out if mental health court is an option might be something to consider.

Source: Arizona Sonora News Service, "A quarter of Arizona prisoners are mentally ill," Meryl Engle, Feb. 18, 2016

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