Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Mentally Ill in Prison

It is good that the Paris Hilton soap opera has people thinking of the plight of the mentally ill in prison.

Paris Hilton self medicates and drinks like a fish. I would not be surprised if the partying lifestyle has transformed the heiress from a spoiled brat to a person with real serious mental illness.

The reason I am thinking about the mentally ill in prison is Ms. Hilton's experience in court. The talking heads on TV say Ms. Hilton probably would not have gone to prison except for the facts that she behaved poorly in court, couldn't follow the judge's directions (despite having expensive lawyers). She also kept showing up late for court.

Just by the nature of their disease, people with mental illness will have a harder time dealing with the court.

I would like to ignore the celebrity status of the case and look at the case from an abstract view:

Let's say defendant A committed a crime. The defendant goes to court. If the defendant placates the judge, they will get a slap on the wrist. If they have a hard time dealing with the judge; then they will go to jail.

Thinking about this scenario abstractly, we see that the person is going to jail, not because of their crime, but because of their difficulties dealing with the judge.

Let's jump to the next level of the puzzle. Let's assume the defendant has a real mental illness. Such a person would end up doing the wrong thing in court and end up in jail, while a person who was more sinister but in control would go free.

The current celebrity case is important because it is showing the world that our legal system has several built in traps for the mentally ill.

I've known several people with severe mental illnesses. They all have a long dysfunctional history with the courts. I've known others who have crossed legal lines. They are self composed, but never run afoul of courts.

I've been dismayed at the large number of mentally ill in prison. I thought it was do to socio-economic problems, or the fact that mentally ill do more crimes. However, if it is true that Courts give harsher sentences simply because people are late and have problems following court instructions; then I think we should add the dysfunctional court system to the reason for the travesty of incarcerating so many mentally ill.


Tyler Farrer said...

When you're rich, your not mentally ill, you're eccentric (i.e. Howard Hughes).

When you're an heir or heiress, you don't even have the benefit of being interesting because of your money--only that you're spending so much.

The thing that is revealing about Paris in jail is that her 45 day absence from the outside may yield a net positive on the world at large.

The fact that we know so much about her, without even trying, demonstrates another kind of sickness in society.

Bradley Ross said...

You've given me something very interesting to ponder. Thank you.