by Jennifer Lane
When Darcia suggested I write a psychological perspective on mental illness and incarceration, I felt conflicted. My psychologist identity leads me in one direction, and my personal philosophy leads me in another.
As a psychologist, I get to learn why people do what they do. And believe me, there’s always a pretty good reason behind our behavior. Insight into what motivates us provides empathy (emotional understanding).
Empathic psychologists often advocate for rehabilitation, instead of incarceration, of mentally ill criminals like addicts or trauma survivors. They argue that it’s unfair to imprison those with an illness. When I see how the abused sometimes becomes the abuser, I support this line of reasoning.
However, my personal philosophy is all about individual responsibility. It’s great to understand why we do what we do, but there are always consequences for our behavior that we must acknowledge. When we break societal rules, we need to face the consequences, which may include prison.
There’s a wonderful treatment approach called Dialectical Behavior Therapy that acknowledges both sides of this coin:
“We may not have caused all our own problems AND we are responsible for solving them anyway.”
While I’m a great believer in the power of healing and redemption, I’m hesitant to decree “rehabilitation instead of incarceration for all nonviolent mentally ill individuals”. I’ll have to take the typical psychologist’s answer of “it depends”. Treatment versus prison depends on the severity of the crime, the accuracy of the psychological diagnosis, and the criminal’s willingness to change.
For something like drug rehab to work, individuals need to be motivated. The cons of drug dependence have to outweigh the pros, or these individuals won’t face the emotional pain that’s likely driving their drug use. It’s also true that sometimes it takes multiple rounds of treatment before it “sticks”, and sometimes treatment doesn’t work at all.
I do wish all prisoners (mentally ill or otherwise) could experience more opportunities to redeem themselves after prison—a theme which I explore in my romantic suspense trilogy The Conduct Series. While researching the novels I learned that some states actually stamp “Registered Offender” across driver’s licenses while individuals are on parole, making it difficult to find jobs or break free of the stigma of imprisonment.
What are your beliefs? Should mentally ill individuals enter treatment instead of prison?
People fascinate the psychologist/author (psycho author) known as Jennifer Lane. Her therapy clients talk to her all day long about their dreams and secrets, and her characters tell her their stories at night. Jen delights in peeling away the layers to scrutinize their psyches and emotions. But please rest assured, dear reader, she isn’t psychoanalyzing you right now. She’s already got too many voices in her head!
Stories of redemption interest Jen the most, especially the healing power of love and empathy. She is the author of The Conduct Series—-romantic suspense for adult readers—-and is currently at work on the third and final installment: On Best Behavior. Streamline is her first foray into writing for young adults, but she’s found this sort of writing even more fun. A former college swimmer, Jen was able to put a lot of her own experiences into this book.
Whether writing or reading, Jen loves stories that make her laugh and cry. In her spare time she enjoys exercising, attending book club, and hanging out with her sisters and their families in Chicago and Hilton Head.
Connect with Jennifer in the following places:
All Jennifer’s books are available on Amazon in both print and Kindle format:
Come back on Wednesday, February 27, for my final post in this series.
You can find the entire schedule here: Criminal Justice Blog Series
Thanks for reading.
Tags: Bad Behavior, Conduct Series, Criminal Justice, Criminal Justice Discussions, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Incarcerating the Mentally Ill, Jennifer Lane, Mental Illness and Prison, With Good Behavior