Misguided and Misdiagnosed: Mental Health and the Criminal Justice System

Misguided and Misdiagnosed: Mental Health and the Criminal Justice System
Friday, February 9, 2018, 2:30 – 4:00 pm
Clark-Fox Forum, Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis

On any given day in the United States, between 300,000 and 400,000 people with mental illnesses are incarcerated in jails and prisons. All too often people with untreated mental health disorders find themselves involved in the criminal justice system and subject to misguided policies and services that further compound the challenges they face. Pete Earley, journalist, Pulitzer Prize finalist, and author of Crazy: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness, is all too familiar with these challenges. On Friday, February 9, Earley addressed a crowd of over 300 guests at the Brown School.

As Earley narrated multiple accounts of abuse, neglect and even death of people with mental illness at the hands of police and wardens, it turned out to be less of an admonishment and more of an acknowledgement that involvement in the justice system, unfortunately, is the only pathway to treatment for some. Without sufficient community-based resources and funding for care – especially preventative care – there is an over reliance on law enforcement for help. And while some police departments and prisons have been able to improve their capacity for interacting with the mentally ill, through programs such as Crisis Intervention Teams, responsibility for recovery should not fall so heavily to police, judges, and wardens. As Earley pointed out, you wouldn’t consult the police for a medical condition such as heart disease, so why are we resorting to law enforcement to treat mental health disorders.

Following Earley’s keynote, Sean Joe, Associate Dean for Faculty and Research and the Benjamin E. Youngdahl Professor of Social Development at the Brown School, moderated a panel of community providers and scholars as they discussed various solutions.

Featured panelists included:

  • Susan W. McGraugh, Professor, Saint Louis University School of Law
  • David M. Montani, M.D., Clayton Behavioral
  • Karl Wilson, former CEO of Crider Health Center