Author: MWN

Deinstitutionalization and the criminalization of mental illness

By Melanie Wilmoth

A recent NPR story sheds light on the growing number of people with mental illnesses residing in America’s prisons and jails. Rather than treating mental illness with therapy and treatment programs, the government uses the criminal justice system as a warehouse for people with mental health issues. With little capacity to provide mental health services, US prisons and jails struggle to treat these individuals.

The increasing “criminalization of mental illness” dates back to the 1950’s when the federal government first began its push for deinstitutionalizing individuals with mental illnesses. There were two main aspects of deinstitutionalization: individuals would be taken out of state-run mental institutions (many of which had a reputation for inhumane treatment) and then treatment would be provided through community mental health programs. In theory, deinstitutionalization sounded promising. People would be moved out of restrictive state institutions and moved into community-run programs. However, deinstitutionalization backfired when community mental health services lacked funding. Thus, people were removed from institutions and received no support services or treatment for their mental illness. As a result, those who were deinstitutionalized ended up homeless or in prison. (more…)

What was really behind Rick Perry’s push for privatized prisoner care?

By Melanie Wilmoth

Earlier this year, Texas Governor Rick Perry proposed privatizing prisoner healthcare. Perry claimed that privatization would save Texas millions of dollars, something which was sorely needed in light of the state’s $27 billion budget deficit. There was much argument over whether or not this proposal would actually save the state money, but the proposal was ultimately shot down when it faced bipartisan resistance.

In a recent article, Tim Murphy sheds light on why Perry was so eager to privatize prisoner care, a move that would have greatly benefitted the private-prison industry. According to Murphy, Perry’s privatization proposal “coincided with an influx of campaign contributions from private-prison executives and lobbyists, among them his former top aide, Michael Toomey, a political powerbroker who represents the nation’s largest private corrections contractor, Corrections Corporation of America.” Overall, representatives from the private-prison industry donated over $100,000 to Perry’s reelection campaigns. (more…)

Mustard seed conspiracy?

By Charles Kiker

Matthew 13:31-32: “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all seeds but when it is grown it becomes the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

One necessary preliminary observation regarding “the kingdom of heaven” in this—and other—parables of the kingdom: this same parable as reported in Mark 4:30-32 and Luke 13:18-19 has “kingdom of God” rather than “kingdom of heaven.” It is customary for Matthew to refer to the kingdom of heaven and for Mark and Luke to refer to the kingdom of God. At any rate, Jesus in this parable and other parables is not referring to heaven as a place where good people go when they die (or people who have prayed the right prayer and/or believed the right things). It is about the kingdom of God which is coming on earth. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” It is about the kingdom coming on earth, and the will of God being done on earth where the will and ways of humankind have sway, as well as in the heavens where God and only God has sway. (more…)

How to join the conspiracy

By Alan Bean

When I tell people about Friends of Justice they sometimes ask how they can get involved.  I tell them that all donations are gratefully received, but that’s rarely what they have in mind. They want to know how they can get involved in the work of Friends of Justice.

And here’s my answer: If you want to help Friends of Justice you need to understand the spirituality that drives our work; you need to get involved with the Mustard Seed Conspiracy. If you live within reasonable driving distance of Arlington, Texas you are invited to attend our weekly study which will begin on Wednesday, September 7.  A few days prior to each gathering you will find that week’s reading assignment and a brief commentary on the Mustard Seed Conspiracy blog. (more…)

“Stop-and-frisk” tactics and racial profiling in New York

By Melanie Wilmoth

Although New York City is 29 percent Latino and 25 percent Black, Al Baker reports that a shocking 85 percent of individuals stopped by New York City police are Latino or Black. In 2008, the New York Police Department’s “stop-and-frisk” tactics and the racial disparities associated with them, prompted the Center for Constitutional Rights to file a suit alleging the use of racial profiling by city police. Recently, lawyers representing the city attempted to dismiss the case. Yesterday, however, Judge Shira Scheindlin rejected the lawyers’ efforts, ruling that there was enough substantial evidence to carry on with a trial.

In her book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander describes the development of stop-and-frisk policies:

Once upon a time, it was generally understood that the police could not stop and search someone without a warrant unless there was probable cause to believe that the individual was engaged in criminal activity. That was a basic Fourth Amendment principle. In Terry v. Ohio, decided in 1968, the Supreme Court modified that understanding, but only modestly, by ruling that if and when a police officer observes unusual conduct by someone the officer reasonably believes to be dangerous and engaged in criminal activity, the officer “is entitled for the protection of himself and others in the area” to conduct a limited search to “discover weapons that might be used against the officer.” Known as the stop-and-frisk rule, the Terry decision stands for the proposition that, so long as a police officer has “reasonable articulable suspicion” that someone is engaged in criminal activity and dangerous, it is constitutionally permissible to stop, question, and frisk him or her — even in the absence of probable cause.

…In the years since Terry, stops, interrogations, and searches of ordinary people driving down the street, walking home from the bus stop, or riding the train, have become commonplace — at least for people of color.

As Alexander points out, the Supreme Court’s decision in Terry v. Ohio set a legal precedent, making it permissible for police to search individuals without probable cause. (more…)

Corruption investigation rocks Tulsa Police Department

Justice for all?

By Melanie Wilmoth

I haven’t heard much news about the corruption investigation of the Tulsa Police Department (TPD) that has been developing over the past few years. This case should be a national scandal. But it’s not.

The media coverage of this story has been lacking to say the least. A quick internet search for information resulted in only a handful of articles, and the few media outlets that are covering the story are almost exclusively local news sources.

The corruption investigation involves several TPD officers and one federal agent who for years used their positions of power to steal money from drug dealers, falsify search warrants, fabricate drug buys, traffick drugs, and manipulate informant testimony in drug cases. The federal investigation began with a tip from a drug dealer, Debra Clayton, who claimed that she sold drugs for TPD officers from spring 2007 to fall 2008. During this time, Clayton recorded conversations between herself and the officers. It was those recordings that led the FBI to investigate. (more…)