Could Norway’s Mental Health Focus Help the US?

Norway may serve as an example to the United States on how best to balance government spending between criminal justice and mental health services. Norway takes a more rehabilitative approach to criminal justice and, as a result, has a much lower rate of recidivism. The country has been recognized internationally for its rehabilitative success, while the criminal justice system in the United States remains overburdened and ill-equipped to handle the large percentage of mentally ill individuals.

Spending Per Prisoner

On average, Norway spends $129,000 per prisoner. The federal prison system in the US spends $36,000. While some of this spending is the result of the high cost of living in Norway, it can serve as an example to the US. The US often ends up spending considerably more on prisoners due to the high rate of recidivism. Meanwhile, Norway has a low recidivism rate due to the fact that it offers more resources for prisoners and has better support systems once prisoners are released.

Mental Health Services

Norway also has an innovative approach to mental health crises in the community. In the coastal city of Bergen, mental health ambulances respond to crisis calls instead of police. The ambulances are staffed with psychiatric nurses and a driver with mental health training. If police are also on the scene, the mental health professionals take the lead. This process results in fewer arrests of individuals who need mental health assistance. In the US, many mentally ill people are placed in the criminal justice system and in some cases, become a burden on the overcrowded prison system.

In addition, while, much like the US, Norway has shut down many of its psychiatric hospitals, the country still has three times more hospital beds per capita than the US. Norway also has a highly developed system of outpatient treatment and social supports to help individuals with mental illness live in the community. Mental health consumes 12% of Norway’s total health spending while the US spends 7% of its healthcare money on mental health services.

Decreased access to mental health services results in many individuals going to jail who don’t belong there. The US has focused more government spending on the criminal justice system than on adequate mental health care. As a result, many jails and prisons have become de facto mental health facilities. Norway has chosen to focus on addressing mental health issues and as a result, has had success with rehabilitating individuals with mental illness.

If you or a loved one has a mental disability and has been arrested or convicted of a crime, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. Elizabeth Kelley specializes in representing individuals with mental disabilities. To schedule a consultation call (509) 991-7058.

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