Commentary, Criminal Justice

Jim Gray: There Are Times When Some People Must Be Deprived of Their Liberty

As much as we would like it to be otherwise, there are times when some people should and must be deprived of their Liberty because of criminal convictions or mental health issues.

In what situations – and for how long that is to occur – are issues for a different day. But when the state does take people into its custody, it has an absolute obligation to do its best to protect every one of them from harm. It must provide them with competent medical care, treatment and services as needed.

Yes, sometimes that means they will receive better treatment than they would receive on their own on the outside, and that’s all right. Nevertheless, in the last few decades many jurisdictions in our country have failed to live up to these fundamental obligations.

To begin with, the largest “mental health” institutions in most local jurisdictions, including Orange and Los Angeles counties in California are their local jails.

Too many times the mentally ill are routinely shoved into cells and either denied proper care or overmedicated simply to keep them from “causing trouble.”

To my lasting regret, there were some times during the middle 1980s where I could see that this was happening with defendants who were appearing in my own courtroom when I did not intercede.

And suicides from those mentally fragile people are not uncommon. In fact, it is estimated by the Huffington Post that about one-third of more than 800 jail deaths in our country between July of 2015 and July of 2016 actually were suicides.

Whose fault is this? Bluntly, it is our government. If it is not working, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Some things are too fundamentally important in a civilized society to be ignored or left to others.

(Photo of jailed female by Officer Bimblebury used with permission.)


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