Shelf Life: A Criminally Insane System

Utne Reader has an interesting overview of recent magazine news stories about the criminalization of mental illness in it’s November – December 2008 issue.

It’s become a well-paying career for thousands of writers, actors, journalists, commentators, musicians – artists and creative people of all sorts – to portray persons with mental illness as dangerous and violent.

“The fact is that the mentally ill are rarely violent and contribute very little to overall violence in the United States,” writes psychiatrist Richard A. Friedman in “The Politics of Mental Illness,” an outstanding 24-page special report in the July-August issue of the American Prospect. But it’s easy to see why this myth needs dispelling: Friedman points to a 2005 study of 70 major newspapers that found that 39 percent of stories about mentally ill people “focused on dangerousness.”

Even the Portland Mercury makes the cut with a brief quote from a spokesperson for the Mental Health Association of Portland.

In Portland, Oregon, mental health advocates eagerly await the start of their own [mental health court] pilot project, says the Portland Mercury (May 1, 2008). “If we actually provided effective, outcome-based treatment on demand for mental health clients in Oregon,” mental health advocate Jason Renaud told the Mercury, “you could probably shut down one hospital and two prisons within two years.”