Doing the Right Thing: Ending the Criminalization of Mental Illness
By Michelle Lugalia-Hollon, Contributing Editor, Global Health
In an unprecedented national call-to-action to lower the number of people with mental illness in the jails, the Council of State Governments Justice Center (CSG) and the National Association of Counties (NaCo) convened leaders in behavioral health and criminal justice at the end of last year. In the United States, where dealing with mentally ill citizens has caused much hand wringing and little sustainable progress over the last few centuries, this is a big deal.
The mentally ill have cycled through various institutions, from asylums to nursing homes, which have all assumed and lost the responsibility for treating them depending on the reform of the day. Though evidence-based solutions have been well researched, implemented and documented, years of effort to adequately address severe mental illness have failed to take root primarily due to inadequate financial support for well-meaning reforms. Across the nation, as best-practices have continued to be gutted, these primarily poor and under-resourced individuals have lost access to the mental health and social services that can keep them healthy, housed and employed. Without access to these vital services mentally ill citizens are left to survive in communities where their unmanaged mental illnesses drive their repeated involvement in illegal behaviors that lead to their arrests. This criminalization of mental illness has led to a disproportionate number of these citizens detained in jails and prisons. Consequently, prisons and jails have become the largest and most utilized mental health institutions across the United States. Continue reading →
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Excavating Our History: What does it mean to be a Social Justice Archivist?
By Skylah S. Hearn
Last year I participated in a conversation on WSTS (West Side) Radio’s roundtable on community engagement and activism called “Activism in Our Community, Honoring MLK” on “The Corner,” a topical show that focuses on current news, events, hot topics and issues relevant to diverse communities in Chicago. The creator and co-host Nicole Harrison provided all of the participants – which included Kimeco Roberson, Jasson Perez, Tillman “TC” Curtis and myself – with brief bios in an effort to have us familiarize ourselves with one another. I was familiar with the majority of the panel and knew them to be activists. But when I read “activist” in my list of descriptors I was taken aback.
Until that moment, I hadn’t thought of myself as an activist and was surprised that Nicole, who is a good friend of mine, viewed me as such. She was equally surprised that I’d never considered myself an activist. I confessed that I’d always viewed myself as a behind-the-scenes accomplice and solutionary, a change agent. I wasn’t bold enough, so to speak, to be on the front lines with picket signs. After a short debate, discussing and juxtaposing said actions of “the activist” and “the change agent”, we determined that, at the core, the roles are synonymous. Whether the actions are on the frontlines or behind-the-scenes, all are carried out by people who have accepted the charge to be committed to changing the current injustices in the social climate and therefore committed to social justice. Continue reading →
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Michigan in Color: “Your people”
By Allana Akhtar
Originally published on Michigan in Color
A few weeks after 9/11, I remember walking down the playground with my best friends, Maureen and Kathleen, after a tiring day of first-grade arithmetic and grammar.
I was a timid, skinny six-year old with large brown eyes and silky black hair cut to my shoulders; my only thoughts must have been about what food will be served during lunch, the latest episode of Arthur and my newborn sister.
As we walked, I remember sensing Maureen and Kathleen being standoffish. I remember them walking a few steps in front of me, whispering to each other and looking back at me.
As the three of us convened in our usual hangout under the slide and behind the monkey bars, I quietly asked what was wrong. The two looked at each other, and then Maureen, her usually gentle blue eyes glaring at me behind her glasses, her usually pale cheeks and ears a soft pink in the September chill, spat, “Allana, it was your people that killed everyone in New York.”
I don’t remember the exact events of what followed, but I do remember my vision going dark. I remember looking around the playground and not seeing colors, only seeing the trees and sky in different shades of gray. Continue reading →
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