As the organization Mental Health America Notes;

“Criminal justice issues among individuals with mental health and substance use conditions is a growing problem. After the wide deinstitutionalization of state hospitals, jails and prisons have seen an increase in the number and percentage of individuals with mental health and substance use conditions who come through their doors.”

Retrieved August 9, 2016 from

A central element in the lives of some criminals is that they suffer from mental illness but won’t agree to treatment and the ability of family and friends to demand treatment has been lost in the impacts of deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill several decades ago.

The impetus for the deinstitutionalization, building on the development of drugs like Thorazine, which gave many suffering from mental illness the ability to function, somewhat, in society—was deepened by 1960’s psychiatrists, like R.D. Laing, who wrote in his famous book, The Politics of Experience:

“In over 100 cases where we studied the actual circumstances around the social event when one person comes to be regarded as schizophrenia, it seems to us that without exception the experience sand behavior that gets labeled schizophrenia is a special strategy that a person invents in order to live in an unlivable situation.” (pp. 78-79) Italics in original.

“There is no such “condition” as “schizophrenia,” but the label is a social fact and the social fact a political event. This political event, occurring in the civic order of society, imposes definitions and consequences on the labeled person. It is a social prescription that rationalizes a set of social actions whereby the labeled person is annexed by others, who are legally sanctioned, medically empowered and morally obligated, to become responsible for the person labeled. The person labeled is inaugurated not only into a role, but into a career of patient, by the concerted actions of a coalition (a “conspiracy”) of family, G.P., mental health officer, psychiatrists, nurses, psychiatric social workers, and often fellow patients. The “committed” person labeled as patients, and specifically as “schizophrenic,” is degraded from full existential and legal status as human agent and responsible person to someone no longer in possession of his own definition of himself, unable to retain his own possessions, precluded from the exercise of his discretion as to whom he meets, what he does. His time is no longer his own and the space he occupies is no longer of his choosing. After being subjected to a degradation ceremonial known as psychiatric examination, he is bereft of his civil liberties in being imprisoned in a total institution known as a “mental” hospital. More completely, more radically than anywhere else in our society, he is invalidated as a human being. In the mental hospital he must remain, until the label is rescinded or qualified by such terms as “remitted” or “readjusted.” Once a “schizophrenic,” there is a tendency to be regarded as always a “schizophrenic.” (pp. 83-84)

Laing, R.D. (1967). The Politics of Experience. New York: Pantheon Books.

Wikipedia writes about Laing:

“Ronald David Laing (7 October 1927 – 23 August 1989), usually cited as R. D. Laing, was a Scottish psychiatrist who wrote extensively on mental illness – in particular, the experience of psychosis. Laing’s views on the causes and treatment of serious mental dysfunction, greatly influenced by existential philosophy, ran counter to the psychiatric orthodoxy of the day by taking the expressed feelings of the individual patient or client as valid descriptions of lived experience rather than simply as symptoms of some separate or underlying disorder. Laing was associated with the anti-psychiatry movement, although he rejected the label. Politically, he was regarded as a thinker of the New Left.”

Retrieved July 31, 2016 from

“Anti-psychiatry is the view that psychiatric treatments are often more damaging than helpful to patients, and a movement opposing such treatments for almost two centuries. It considers psychiatry a coercive instrument of oppression due to an unequal power relationship between doctor and patient, and a highly subjective diagnostic process.

“Anti-psychiatry originates in an objection to what some view as dangerous treatments. Examples include electroconvulsive therapy, insulin shock therapy, and brain lobotomy. An immediate concern is the significant increase in prescribing psychiatric drugs for children. There were also concerns about mental health institutions. All modern societies permit involuntary treatment or involuntary commitment of mental patients.”

Retrieved July 31, 2016 from

As a PBS Frontline report noted:

“Deinstitutionalization is the name given to the policy of moving severely mentally ill people out of large state institutions and then closing part or all of those institutions; it has been a major contributing factor to the mental illness crisis. (The term also describes a similar process for mentally retarded people, but the focus of this book is exclusively on severe mental illnesses.)

“Deinstitutionalization began in 1955 with the widespread introduction of chlorpromazine, commonly known as Thorazine, the first effective antipsychotic medication, and received a major impetus 10 years later with the enactment of federal Medicaid and Medicare. Deinstitutionalization has two parts: the moving of the severely mentally ill out of the state institutions, and the closing of part or all of those institutions. The former affects people who are already mentally ill. The latter affects those who become ill after the policy has gone into effect and for the indefinite future because hospital beds have been permanently eliminated.

“The magnitude of deinstitutionalization of the severely mentally ill qualifies it as one of the largest social experiments in American history. In 1955, there were 558,239 severely mentally ill patients in the nation’s public psychiatric hospitals. In 1994, this number had been reduced by 486,620 patients, to 71,619, as seen in Figure 1.2. It is important to note, however, that the census of 558,239 patients in public psychiatric hospitals in 1955 was in relationship to the nation’s total population at the time, which was 164 million.”

Retrieved July 31, 2016 from

The bottom line is that until we, as a society, can once again use involuntary committment to a mental facility, we will continue to have these problems and many of the mentally ill will continue to live lives without treatment.