Patrisse Cullors On the Criminalization of Mental Illness

Black Lives Matter’s Patrisse Cullors has a serious and poignant point. Normally, I disagree with some of the content Mic allows to be published on their website. However, every-now-and-again, I happen across an article on my social media news feed that gives me a different perspective. Greater insight. More understanding with what social issues we are facing today.

Cullors shares her personal struggles regarding her brother and the altercations when it came to law enforcement involvement. And, she makes a valid point:

Jails are not mental hospitals or outpatient clinics — they are punitive institutions ill-equipped, and often unwilling, to treat unwell people. On this day, and every day, I challenge all of us to imagine a world that pushes forth care and healing instead of punishment.

There is no logical way to dismiss her viewpoint. Simply because it is quite true. While I may split hairs and disagree that sometimes it is not merely Law Enforcement alone as first responders to a crisis involving someone with mental health related issues. Paramedics, EMT’s, and even local fire districts may also respond.

Over the course of 7 plus years working as a substance use disorder professional; over 5 of those 7 years I have had to either:

  • Contact local law enforcement to intervene with patients who are diagnosed with co-occurring disorders (Substance use and Mental Health Related Issues). This included threats of self-harm, suicidal ideation, and homicidal ideation.
  • Have had to intervene and lend support during a patient’s onset of substance related induced psychosis (and sometimes not even when I am in the office – and on some occasions, had to intervene within the community and general public). This intervention required contacting and working with local law enforcement officers.

In fact, majority of our prison system incarcerates more members of our society that experience and exhibit some level of co-occurring disorder.

Cullor’s story is not isolated. In Seattle, there are more arrests and releases of individuals suffering homelessness, substance use dependency and disorder, and mental health related issues:

Approximately 40 percent of the sampled prolific offender population showed clear signs of significant mental health conditions, based on court and police records. Roughly half of those (20 percent of the total population) had a lengthy history of serious, unprovoked assaults on innocent victims. This group poses an ongoing public safety hazard. Most of the individuals in this sub-group had undergone multiple prior court-ordered mental health evaluations. Because they had previously been found not competent to stand trial, new cases were dismissed and the individual was released back into the public after a period of incarceration ranging from one day to several weeks or months. Despite the threats posed by individuals in this small group, there was little evidence that prosecutors had sought recent involuntary commitments.

With the opioid epidemic, affordable housing crisis, rise in homelessness, social infrastructure breakdown due to lack of funding, and increase in crime and incarceration of individuals who are suffering substance use related disorders and complications where there is significant mental health related issues: We need to focus on what is not working.

Patrisse Cullors sums it up eloquently:

We need a system that believes in the dignity of human beings, one that restores the lives of people with mental illness instead of destroying them. Mental illness is not a felony. I want those of us whose families manage severe mental illness to be able to rely on a mental health care system that is no longer intertwined with law enforcement.

There is no better concern and assessment that what she shares.

Read Patrisse Cullor’s article: Black Lives Matter’s Patrisse Cullor’s on the criminalization of mental illness


  1. homwardbound says:

    Thank you for sharing, Listening is so much more important that trying to fix anyone.

    How many times have you, yourself were in the middle of letting it out and there came an interruption from another one there in the group or just another person that was listening?

    So there you are trying to share your feelings in thoughts, and right in the gist of that, some one says something, asking a ? or just sharing their way to fix what they have interpreted is your problem

    It is like this to me: when that happens
    I am interrupted, distracted from throwing up all my anxieties onto the floor, getting it out. and once interrupted, I got to suck that throw up back up and not get it out to heat from it.
    I know when others do this as I have done this to others too. I mean well, the same as you do too. Until one is exhausted in letting go of all that garbage in them, how can one begin to truly heal?

    As I have noticed in me: When I can vent completely, and others do not interrupt this, I know what I have vented entirely, even though others hearing do not. I later hear thought(s) that settle these ill thought(s) I had.


  2. homwardbound says:

    As right now, I feel so much more at ease and am listening from with in
    Thanks Brother for sharing it helps


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