Prison Industrial Complex

Families are set to meet elected officials in Washington, D.C. to lobby for better mental healthcare for the “4 percent” of the most severely ill individuals diagnosed with mental illnesses. I hope I can join them in speaking out against one trend that has hit home for me: how individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia bipolar and other mental illnesses often wind up in jails where they lack treatment and get worse and worse over time.

A person with a mental illness who abuses street drugs, who is a “non-violent drug offender” who hasn’t committed a crime (except for using drugs), should not wind up in a jail cell.

The prison industrial complex is alive and well in America.

Regardless of who gets voted into office one thing is clear: business as usual will continue because no elected officials want to legalize street drug use. It’s my contention that street drug use should be legal.

A woman told me that elected officials with the big bucks are in cahoots with the drug cartels. That no one is truly invested in stopping the war on drugs. Yet spending millions of dollars to book, process, house, and feed in jails people whose only “crime” is having a drug addiction (a verifiable version of a mental illness) is a waste of money.

The money would better be used to create better drug awareness campaigns and a better system of rehabilitation for users of street drugs.

Currently, the rehab center industry isn’t regulated and it has a dismal failure rate and most centers do not use best practices treatment to help people. They use coercion and bullying and kick people out who relapse. Rehab centers have a “revolving door” just like mental hospitals do.

I have said enough. I could go on and on about this. I would rather fight a war I had a reasonable chance of winning. Yet even though I think the crusade to legalize street drug use is a war that can’t be won: it’s the one I’m willing to fight. I don’t think we can win the battle against the prison industrial complex in America yet I’m willing to fight it.

Jail is no place for a person with a severe mental illness to live.

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Author: Chris Bruni

Christina Bruni is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir Left of the Dial. She owns a resume writing and career help business. She contributed a chapter "Recovery is Within Reach" to Benessere Psicologico: Contemporary Thought on Italian American Mental Health. As well as an author and activist, Bruni is an artist and a fitness buff.

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