In a story today by the Guardian in the United Kingdom about people with mental health disabilities and the jail system, there were several remarks made concerning the current system there that relate to prisons in place in various nations around the world. The article began by commenting about the amount of public resistance and lack of money that is hampering the government's plans to build five huge jails, something that I view as a highly positive development. There is apparently a great deal of prison building going on in the United Kingdom, with the goal of confining people who use illegal drugs, persons with mental health disabilities, and others who should be receiving health care and social services instead of being incarcerated.
The article, titled, 'We Need Healthier Justice,' makes a statement that has me absolutely stunned. What follows is a direct quote from the article:
"The building program will take the rate of imprisonment in England and Wales to 178 per 100,000 of the general population. This far exceeds incarceration rates of all our western neighbor's, including Germany at 88 and France 96 per 100,000 of their populations, and pushes us ahead of many eastern European nations."
It would appear that the United Kingdom's solution to dealing with it's social issues is to put people it finds difficult to approach with appropriately in prison; out of sight, out of mind - despite the costs.
According to the article, about seven-percent of the people incarcerated in the United Kingdom's prison system have an I.Q. Below 70. Twenty to thirty-percent of those in this nation's prisons are people who either have learning disabilities, or another form of disability that makes it difficult for them to interact with the United Kingdom's legal system. Seventy to eighty-percent of the people who arrive at the prison system are found to be positive for drugs.
I am not surprised at the rate at which incarcerated people arrive at the doors of these prisons positive for illegal drugs. When your society is not providing the assistance you need, the medical and social assistance you require to help you become a part of the society you belong to, self-treatment through other means is something that people many times pursue. Throwing people with learning disabilities, people who have low I.Q.'s, and people with other disabilities into prison simply because you don't want to take the time to work with them on a social level is unacceptable.
In another example of the gross social negligence of the United Kingdom, the article cites the case of an eighty year old man who was thrown in prison for indecent exposure. This man was experiencing confusion, was most likely also experiencing some form of mental health disorder such as Alzheimer's disease, and was continually removing his clothes. Prison was so completely inappropriate a solution to dealing with this man that I find myself wondering what police officer could bring themselves to arrest him. I have to wonder what court could possibly do more than send him to a hospital. I wonder what could possibly be running through the minds of the people in the legal system in the United Kingdom.
I also have to wonder how much it costs to not only build all of those prisons in the United Kingdom, but to run them every day. Would it cost less to actually treat people who do not belong in the prison system, such as people with disabilities, from both medical and social perspectives? I have a feeling that it would either be comparable, or less expensive. In my mind this comes down to nothing more than sheer prejudice and outright unwillingness to acknowledge the social issues related to disabilities that the United Kingdom is facing.
The people who are objecting to this gross negligence in their society are to be commended for their stance. With nations other than the ones in the United Kingdom that still pursue an ideology of, 'lock them away where we do not have to see them,' instead of working with and treating people with disabilities it is an immense joy to know that there are people who are supporting people with disabilities. Statements and actions that support people with disabilities also support society as a whole; there is no division between the people in society. We are very tired of our family members and friends being locked away as if they had no meaning or value.