Mental health issues and the criminal system…

I don’t write much about this topic, because thankfully, I’ve not had the opportunity to deal with too many people who suffer from mental health problems. As an Assistant State’s Attorney I would see numerous individuals charged with non violent crimes (for the most part) in court, day in and day out. Mostly homeless men & women charged with criminal trespass to land or property among other crimes such as retail theft. The easy answer was to offer jail time because of their lengthy rap sheets. Sadly, most of these folks didn’t get the help they really needed and almost always re-offended. Some of these folks graduate to more violent crimes because they don’t get the help they need.

My experience with the mentally ill  wasn’t limited to those who were arrested.  Many times, my victims exhibited signs of behavior that wasn’t *the norm*, but not knowing much about mental illness and not having any training through work with how to deal with people like this often times made for a difficult day, after which I would feel frustrated sad and helpless all at the same time.

While my experiences never correlated to events such as those I read about in the news this morning, I am always shocked at just how many people are labeled as *mentally ill* after having committed a heinous crime or one that jeopardized the health or safety of another. While many different situations or life experiences triggered these incidents, you almost always read that neighbors, friends and family *were shocked to hear* and *would’ve never guessed* that someone they knew would commit such a crime.

I believe that daily news feeds that shock us, like those referenced here, here, and here, and the experiences that some of us have had working within the court system, our own personal experiences, etc. should make us more aware that we all could benefit from being  educated about the signs of mental illness, what can be done about it and how we, as friends, family and neighbors of those who exhibit these signs can reach out to them before they *snap*.

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