Letters: New thinking on mental illness and prisons
Steve Lopez’s endorsement of the mental rehabilitation program Step Up on Second reinforces the need to change the conversation about how to deal with prison overcrowding — from a focus on building more prisons to an emphasis on prevention and rehabilitation.
There are programs in Southern California and throughout the country that can be drawn on as models, including rehabilitation and reentry programs for detainees and training and job-training efforts and initiatives to improve education, health and housing in poor communities.
Many of these programs have been successful in rehabilitating prisoners and decreasing recidivism.
The mandate to lower the number of inmates in California’s prisons provides an excellent opportunity to rethink our ineffective and expensive incarceration system in favor of programs shown to be effective (and often less expensive) in reducing the need for prisons.
The biggest challenge to successful programs such as Step Up on Second is the pervasive stigma of mental illness. Changing our fundamental philosophy makes it easier to implement these and other successful service-oriented programs for the unserved and underserved target populations.
As stated in a 2009 report prepared for the California Institute for Mental Health and the California Mental Health Directors Assn. on the state legislation funding programs like Step Up on Second, these measures provide services to a target population whose needs previously went largely unmet, individuals with a mental illness who had been previously homeless or incarcerated.
There is a need to change an underlying attitude to provide these services.
James McChesney Ranson
The writer is a master of social work candidate at USC specializing in mental healthcare.