Criminalizing mental health: Mental health care and the war on drugs in Texas

Date

2021-08

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Abstract

This thesis traces the structures of mental health care in Texas from the 1960s to the 1990s and the shift to punitive action towards people with mental illness. The initial phases of mental health care in Texas were asylums and institutional care. This form of care was intended to of a rehabilitative nature and to provide meaningful care to people with varying degrees of mental health struggles. There was an aspect of confinement in these facilities, but it was intended to be therapeutic. Asylums began to decline so seriously that they were no longer therapeutic. The Kennedy Administration saw to a massive transition in the mode of mental health care in the United States with the Community Mental Health Care Act of 1963. The intent with this legislation was to provide people with the medical care needed through community mental health centers so that they could live their lives in a positive environment with loved ones. This transition in care occurred simultaneously with the early stages of the punitive turn in Texas and a national level acknowledgement that addiction was a mental illness, not a negligent act. Governor Preston Smith and his office saw to the punishment of people with addiction rather than their medical treatment. His office focused their addiction prevention on young people, which posed an additional threat to young people already under new surveillance. The Governor’s office moved addiction care into jails and prisons in Texas. This transition was supported by federal funds cementing the plan already in play. The results of this last transition were an epidemic of jailhouse suicides and federal court case, Ruiz v. Estelle. Officials working in jails knew that there was a problem and requested aid, but it was never granted. Ruiz attempted to reshape the Texas prison system for the betterment of people in prison. The court ordered the end of police beatings of people in prison and new screenings upon entrance to aid people with mental health struggles. However, the new systems put in place made obtaining all forms of health care more difficult and did not end solitary confinement.

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Keywords

Deinstitutionalization, Mental Health, Texas, Mass Incarceration

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