It is both frustrating and scary when individuals with mental illness commit violent acts aimed at those who are employed to help them.

While an individual with mental illness is far more likely to be victimized than to be the aggressor, it can feel reasonable at times to hold people within a psychiatric hospital criminally responsible for their actions. It’s not.

In fact, it is wrong to prosecute them for their behavior simply because they have been involuntarily committed to a hospital because of mental illness and imminent risk.

If individuals are well enough to be held criminally responsible for their actions, then they should not have been confined to a mental health hospital and stripped of self-determination rights.

When the severity of a person’s mental illness necessitates that they be in a hospital for treatment, they should have complete immunity from being seen as criminal.

Whether it is the recent arrest of Anthony Reed, accused of attacking a Riverview staff member at the Kennebec County jail, or the recent conviction of Mark Murphy, for attacking a pregnant mental health worker at Riverview, it appears that counties across Maine are actively criminalizing the mentally ill.

Some individuals who are very ill are also very physically aggressive, however, they should be treated in a facility that is able to provide hospital-level care. Maine lacks a small facility for individuals such as Reed and Murphy. They have needs greater than Riverview can meet, but it is simply wrong to force them into the criminal justice system.

Punishing people with mental illness for their acts against society is a complete waste of taxpayer’s resources.

We cannot as a state be both committed to mental health and lock up mentally ill individuals for their behavior.

Jenna Mehnert is the executive director of NAMI Maine, the state’s largest grassroots mental health organization offering support, education and advocacy to anyone affected by mental illness. To learn more, visit www.namimaine.org.


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