“My job description was written at the signing of the Magna Carta… If I walked into a courtroom tomorrow and you asked me to prosecute a case, my job would be to investigate that crime, produce that evidence to a finder of fact to determine guilt or innocence. Nothing has changed since then. And unlike medicine, which changed with times and culture and advances in understanding about people in our communities, the criminal justice system functions the exact same way that it was invented.”
--Adam Foss, Founder and President of Prosecutor Impact
(Today’s article relies heavily on Alisa Roth’s book Insane: America’s Criminal Treatment of Mental Illness.)
In 1751, Benjamin Franklin asked the Pennsylvania Assembly for some money to set up the first hospital in America with a separate ward for treating mental illness. Prior to that the latter were “treated” at the House of Correction and “that House was by no Means fitted for such Purposes.” (pg. 77) Conditions were grim. Patients lived in cold, smelly basement cells and were often put in hand irons, leg locks, and straitjackets. People would come to ogle them and were charged four pence for the hassle. Arguments ensued over the centuries up to this day whether the mentally ill should be treated as felons. See LA County Jail, Cook County Jail, and Riker’s Island.
“Over the course of our [American] history, punishment by incarceration has been our standard response to crime. But by the 1970s, as jails and prisons were beginning to grow dramatically, we had largely given up on the idea that incarceration should be rehabilitative. Lost with the notion of rehabilitation have been things like education programs, which made it possible. Instead, we have been left with an almost single-minded focus on punishment and retribution.” (pg. 93)
I’ve been in horrible places by today’s standards. This is not how people should be treated.