The Mentally Ill in Jail

While visiting my blogging peers, I came across a post that struck a nerve with me about The Mentally Ill In Jail.  I have come across a few articles on the web about this too. It seems to be an epidemic on the rise. It saddens me that there is not enough appropriate care for people challenged by mental illness.

There are 10 times more mentally ill Americans in prisons and jails than in state psychiatric hospitals, a report published Tuesday found. “In 44 of the 50 states, a prison or jail in that state holds more individuals with serious mental illness than the largest remaining state psychiatric hospital,” the report said.

I am not saying that mentally ill shouldn’t be held responsible for their actions; but, better prevention would be possible with an improved mental health care system .

I know from personal experience how difficult it can be to get the help that is needed. I have witnessed people fall in between the cracks of society because their needs were not recognized. People with mental illness are often cast out. The stigma has improved slowly but exists painfully.

In December, the White House announced a $100 million campaign to increase access to mental health services. “The fact that less than half of children and adults with diagnosable mental health problems receive the treatment they need is unacceptable. The President and I have made it a priority to do everything we can to make it easier to access mental health services,” Vice President Joe Biden said in a statement on Dec. 10.

In NH, I personally wrote the governor Maggie Hassan, describing the nightmare one has to go through to even get admitted to a state hospital. In NH, when someone has a mental health emergency they go to the local hospital. Hours or most likely days are spent in the emergency room, where the patient isn’t receiving the help they need and their condition often worsens. This is because of the shortage of beds in the state hospital. Then if they are finally successful in being admitted; the state hospital is severely understaffed and underfunded. I did receive a call from the governors office and they sent me her budget plan that included more beds for the hospital, which did happen; but this only touches the surface of the problem.

With such a poor system, it is easy to see why or how people end up incarcerated. To make matters worse these individuals aren’t receiving the appropriate care while in jail. Mentally ill prisoners are often victimized or sent to solitary confinement, and they attempt suicide at disproportionate rates. Mentally ill Americans who are imprisoned often leave incarceration sicker than when they entered, according to the report, released by the Treatment Advocacy Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating barriers to the timely and effective treatment of severe mental illness. The lack of treatment for seriously ill inmates is inhumane and should not be allowed in a civilized society,” Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, founder of the Treatment Advocacy Center and lead author of the study, said Tuesday in a statement. 

Mentally ill people were routinely confined to prisons or jails until the early 19th century, when the practice was deemed inhumane and problematic, and they were hospitalized instead. However, following a series of exposés on the “abysmal” conditions of those psychiatric hospitals, many were closed by the 1970s.

Dr. Torrey adds, “By shifting the venue of these mentally ill individuals from hospitals to prisons and jails, we have succeeded in replicating the abysmal conditions of the past but in a nonclinical setting whose fundamental purpose is not medical in nature.”

It frightens me that we could be moving backwards in caring for mentally ill. It is time for solutions. I read some great suggestions on the Hopeworks Community blog.  I also found The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers alternatives to incarceration on their website. 

Hopefully, with awareness ,education and a little help from our government,  America can move forward in treating mental illness.


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