Ever since realizing that I have a mental illness, I have become a huge advocate for individuals with mental health. One of the most common complaints that I hear is that people are using mental illness as an excuse to get out of jail. What bothers me about this is the complete ignorance of people who make this claim. First of all, people who commit crimes but are found Not Criminally Responsible By Reason of Mental Disorder are not simply set free after committing crimes. These people are still being detained, they are just being sent to a facility that will help them get better rather than just sending them into a prison to get worse in a cell. So in a way, yes these people are getting out of jail. BUT they are not being set free.
Also, while some people might try to use mental illness as an excuse when they are not actually suffering, this usually does not work in their favor because they may actually end up spending more time in an institution than they would have served in a prison. Furthermore, these individuals must be assessed by professionals in order to use this defence successfully. So if an individual uses a mental illness as a defence for a crime, chances are that the individual is actually dealing with a mental illness that likely had some impact on their actions.
The accusation that mental health is just an excuse to get people out of paying for their crimes is just one more way that mental illness is being stigmatized. If we ever hope to end the stigmatization of mental health we need to work towards ending accusations such as these.
This is not to say that the actions of the individuals are okay simply because they are mentally ill. On the contrary, the actions definitely need to be recognized as wrong and the people need to be punished to that mental illness does not become an excuse for crime. However, since mental illness is clearly NOT an excuse for crime, society needs to stop treating it as such. Society needs to stop criminalizing and stigmatizing the people who are often suffering the most.