Care, not criminalization: alternative to Michigan incarceration for mental health

March is National Criminal Justice Month, and advocates say people with mental illness are over-represented in jails and prisons.
According to the Prison Policy Initiative, 43% of people in state prisons and 44% of people in local jails have been diagnosed with a mental-health disorder.
The Care Not Criminalization Campaign, with a focus on decriminalizing mental illness and substance abuse in Michigan’s Black and Brown communities, highlights the inadequacy of incarceration as a solution.
Nick Buckingham is co-founder of Michigan Liberation, which is leading this campaign.
He emphasized that many in the BIPOC community are unfairly represented in the criminal-justice system – and argues that instead of incarceration, individuals should receive proper mental-health diagnosis and support, as jail often fails to address the underlying issues and change behavior effectively.
“In Michigan, a lot of our institutions that house folks with mental illness have been closed down,” said Buckingham, “and prisons and jails have become a holding spot for a lot of these folks.”
Governments writing the laws and the judicial system often default to a tough on crime attitude, with the intention of protecting the public from often frightening situations.
But Buckingham said the campaign hopes to addresses stigmas related to substance use and encourages community members to engage with advocacy groups discussing these issues openly.
He said having these conversations and avoiding microaggressions or misjudgments will prevent relying on incarceration as a sole method of rehabilitation.
He also reminded folks that calling 988 for support is another resource.
Buckingham said the stigma around mental health is deeply criminalized in our communities.
He said we don’t know how to identify with mental health, and if something seems off or odd about an individual in a community, the police are called on them and we may call them a criminal.
“And what we’ve seen in the past is,” said Buckingham, “interactions with the police can ultimately lead to a police killing, a shooting, or somebody with one of these conditions being harmed in our community.”
Buckingham said his group campaigns to help people with mental-health needs get support in all areas of the criminal justice system.
He said that when an individual with a known real diagnosis of a mental-health condition goes to court, having diversion programs within the courtroom help divert that person away from any type of incarceration.
“Locking a person up, putting them into a cage, or putting them into hostile environments is only going to make that condition more worse,” said Buckingham. “And it also puts the staff of that jail or that prison at harm’s risk.”

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1 comment

Charles U Farley April 1, 2024 at 10:42 am

“The Care Not Criminalization Campaign, with a focus on decriminalizing mental illness and substance abuse in Michigan’s Black and Brown communities”

… can safely be ignored because they are racist. Either they don’t want to acknowledge that whites have mental health issues as well, or they are just another part of the left’s “soft on crime” agenda. The strong correlation between mental illness and criminal activity doesn’t excuse the criminal activity.


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