Fixing the mental health system should be D.C.’s top priority
I am writing in response to Street Sense Media CEO Brian Carome’s piece in The Washington Post’s Sunday publication in January, titled “What we can learn from Alice Carter’s death.” In it, he wrote about the mania of the city’s mental health crisis and how both the criminal justice and mental and behavioral health systems are under-funded and under siege.
Fixing this broken system must be at the top of the city’s agenda. The lack of support for people who are struggling at this intersection, despite the city’s community mental health court, creates a spell of illusion for city officials and peril for residents. As it did for Alice Carter.
I, too, am homeless. And I, too, have experienced this limbo between health and justice systems that provides neither safety nor security. Four days before Brian’s article was printed in the Post, I was released from St. Elizabeths psych-ward after courts claimed I wasn’t “fit to stand trial.” Prior to being held there a month, I was held at the Department of Corrections’s city jail for two months. All this for what should have been a weekend hold. Finally, I was deemed “competent” and released back to the grimy streets without shelter or a path for upward mobility.
What makes this troubling is I have no prior mental illness or criminal background. Yet, here I am to tell you there are gaping holes in the law and character flaws in those authorized to enforce it. My heart weeps for the onslaught of individuals who get caught up in the criminal justice and mental health systems without any real recourse for getting back in the community as productive members of society. We need a third-party arbitration system that works for those whose voices too often are silenced through shame, ignorance, and the imbalance of power between the law and the people.
Like Alice, I was arrested on minor, nonviolent offenses: three unlawful entry cases in a two months span. And like Alice, I am full of potential and creativity. What I need is opportunity. What we all need is a better health care system and a new path forward in revamping the criminal justice system of America.
Anthony White is a D.C. resident.