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Mental health expert: U.S. justice system is badly misguided

“More punishment for more people.”

That outcome has sadly been the recipe in criminal law cases across America since the country’s inception, says one behavioral expert and justice system commentator who strongly urges reform.

William R. Kelly is a sociology professor and widely acknowledged criminal justice expert who has crystal-clear views concerning the sources of the country’s unquestionably challenged penal system. That regime has always been flawed, he says, but especially so since the advent of the so-called War on Crime and War on Drugs approximately 50 years ago.

That persistent campaign is fueled by what might be termed illogical logic, namely, the belief that wrongdoers almost always get in trouble because they made bad decisions. Justice officials respond to that in a near lock-step way, by incarcerating them for lengthy periods. The prevalent view is that hard punishment will mend their errant ways.

Kelly contends that such a philosophy is woefully misguided on many fronts. For starters, he notes, a stunning 80% of all American prisoners reportedly have substance abuse issues. A clear majority of them need mental-care treatment. More than half deal with one or more past traumatic brain injuries.

That demands treatment, not a simple lock up, Kelly says. Mere punishment is not working as a response to crime, as evidenced by a recidivism (return to prison following release) rate of close to 85%.

Legions of offenders need appropriate treatment and follow-up, not a behind-the-bars response that simply allows existing problems to fester and spill over into the general public later.

We need to materially reduce our prison population rather than consistently add to it, Kelly stresses. Doing so pursuant to more appropriately treating offenders will reduce recidivism, decrease costs for taxpayers, lower the crime rate and allow for enhanced reintegration by offenders back into their communities.

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