A group of three Illinois State University students released a video about mental health issues and the criminal justice system in order to promote awareness throughout McLean County.
The video was created last semester in Professor Cara Rabe-Hemp’s criminal justice class, Criminalizing the Mentally Ill, which requires students to research all semester and create a digital media project out of their findings as it relates to mental health and the criminal justice system. The class focuses on how the mentally ill are treated within the criminal justice system. The video highlights the flaws within U.S. jails and prisons in terms of housing the mentally ill.
“Throughout the class we were learning about how these people who are so desperately in need of adequate medical care are being thrown into the criminal justice system, which is meant to take care of criminals, not people with severe mental issues,” Cailin McDermott, a criminal justice major and one of the three students that created the video, said.
Much attention has been directed toward the issue lately in McLean County after the jail was assessed as inadequate by the National Institute of Corrections for housing mentally ill inmates, who are temporarily housed in the booking unit due to over population of inmates.
“I don’t think many people know that a lot of mentally ill citizens are in jail rather than in hospitals,” Rabe-Hemp, associate professor in the criminal justice studies program, said.
Both McDermott and Rabe-Hemp hope to create awareness throughout McLean County in terms of mentally ill receiving proper care in the hands of the law. They feel that many times there are better solutions to jail, like a crisis intervention team or medical facilities that could more accurately care for specific needs.
“One way of getting people on board is to teach undergraduates about it,” Rabe-Hemp said. “In essence, we are creating advocates.” Rabe-Hemp added that most of the people that take her class will move on to become law enforcers that will come in contact with mentally ill citizens.
The video will be used for public use and was shared with county administrators and the county mental health board, which is considering using it on the McLean County website.
“I hope that people take it to heart and realize that we all have the power to make a change in the way that mentally ill people are treated in the criminal justice system,” McDermott said.
McDermott says that it is important to develop community based programs to help the mentally ill stay out of our prisons and jails.
“Until we are able to do this, I hope that my video at least shows how effective crisis intervention training for police officers can be in protecting our officers and the mentally ill in crisis they so often come into contact with. There are things we can do to help. But the public needs to see what is going on before anything will change,” McDermott said.