ACLU Achieves New Heights in Hypocrisy

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in July 2008, issued a “Report on Mental Health Issues at Los Angeles County Jail.” The report decried the increasing number of severely mentally ill inmates in the jail and the lack of treatment available to them.

This report is remarkable primarily for its hypocrisy. It was, after all, the New York chapter of the ACLU that sponsored the initial mental health project run by lawyer Bruce J. Ennis. Ennis wrote that the goal of the ACLU program “should be nothing less than the abolition of involuntary hospitalization.” Ennis and other representatives of the ACLU played a major role in shutting down most state psychiatric hospitals and in blocking all attempts to treat patients who do not know they are sick. For examples, in New York City, when then mayor Ed Koch tried to involuntarily hospitalize obviously psychotic homeless individuals, it was the ACLU that went to court and blocked his efforts.

So after doing everything possible to empty public psychiatric hospitals and then blocking all attempts to treat the discharged patients who were unaware of their psychiatric illness, here comes the ACLU decrying the fact that many of these untreated discharged patients have ended up in jail. It is like the small boy who intentionally breaks his toys and then blames others for doing so.

If there is a national prize for hypocrisy, the ACLU deserves serious consideration as a recipient.

Also read “Uncivil Liberties,” the best article on this subject

DJ Jaffe is Executive Director of the non-partisan Mental Illness Policy Org., and author of Insane Consequences: How the Mental Health Industry Fails the Mentally Ill. He is a critic of the mental health industry for ignoring the seriously ill, and has been advocating for better treatment for individuals with serious mental illness for over 30 years. He has written op-eds on the intersection of mental health and criminal justice policy for the New York Times, Wall St. Journal and the Washington Post. New York Magazine has credited him with being the driving force behind the passage of New York’s Kendra’s Law and Congress incorporated ideas proposed by DJ in the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act.