Criminal Justice Reformation for The Mentally Ill and Intellectually Incapacitated

Apr 1, 2022 | Family Law, Criminal Law, and Other Cases involving Mental Health Issues, Mental Health Law, The Mind Itself

Diving into the Mind

In this episode of the Mind Itself, Elizabeth Lancaster, family law and criminal attorney, joins John to discuss criminal justice reformation for those that are mentally ill or incapacitated. From her very first trial as a public defender officer, she knew that bringing light to mental health was something that she wanted to do for the rest of her life. During her time in the courtroom, she wanted to change the system so that it focused less on punishment and more about getting those that are going through something mentally the help that they need. Since then, she’s been an advocate for providing people with resources rather than incarcerating them. 

Mental Health Reformation Action That’s Happening Now 

Most of the reformation that is happening throughout the system currently is to attempt to make things better for people going through crisis-type mental health cases. When someone is mentally ill, or disabled, there are a lot of areas that need to be improved within the system that results in better success for everyone involved.  

Despite the circumstances of different cases, mental health can play an important role in criminality as a whole. There is a heavy emphasis on what the incapacity is during the sentencing process, but there is potential for it to be relevant and important during all the stages – including during the trial itself.  

Reason of insanity is often the thing that is most associated with the mental health law, but there’s a wider spectrum that should be taken into consideration during the courtroom experience.  

Bills are implemented to refocus on help, rather than punishment. In some states, diminished capacity isn’t a defense. This means that someone cannot use their mental illness or mental disability as a reason for their actions, which can be harmful in how the trial plays out in courtrooms.   

There is a push for the opportunity to present evidence of mental illness or mental incapacity as evidence. This not only helps the individual potentially get the help they need, but it gives the defense attorney the chance to reach plea agreements. Sentencing requires an open understanding of all mental illnesses.  

Avoiding Prosecution to Focus on Treatment 

In the state of Virginal, the Marcus Alert bill is going to be put in place. Created after a 24-year-old man was killed during a mental health crisis, this bill attempts to divert prosecution during a mental health crisis.  

Not only is it a waste of time, but it can be costly when incarcerating mentally ill or disabled peoples instead of providing the treatment. The notion behind this bill is focused on how if the system treated these struggling people better, it could prevent them from doing it again. It can help divert people from the revolving door and cycle of detention, jail, and the courtroom.   

There has been a high level of education and focus on crisis intervention training in the justice system, especially with law enforcement. Changes need to be made to increase public safety. It’s not always easy to recognize the difference between mental health vs. criminal issues, so people must become educated on how to identify and deal with these situations.  


Hosts & Guests

John Whitbeck

Elizabeth Lancaster


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