A new report by the Treatment Advocacy Center shows that the American prison system has an astonishing number of mentally ill people in it, and it begs the question why these people are in jail and probably not getting the care that they need. According to the figures, there are more than 356,000 mentally ill people in prison, while there are only 35,000 mentally ill people in mental hospitals. What’s more is that 44 states and the District of Colombia have at least one prison with more mentally ill people than the largest mental hospital in their state.
Amazingly, it gets even worse. From 2009 to 2012, state mental health agencies cut 10 percent of the beds that are available to mentally ill people.
The conditions that mentally ill inmates are subjected to certainly raise questions. It is highly unlikely that they receive the kind of mental care that they would receive at a mental hospital while they are in prison. The report also touched on some of the specific conditions mentally ill patients were subjected to, such as a prison filled with rats. In that particular case, the inmates captured the rats and kept them as pets. In another prison, a mentally ill inmate was kept in solitary confinement for 13 of the 15 years he was in prison. Surely that only made his mental condition worse.
Clearly we aren’t doing enough to help out the mentally ill population, and it begs the question of whether they should be treated so harshly by the criminal justice system.
Source: MSNBC, “Prisons are the ‘new asylums’ of the US: Report,” Meredith Clark, April 8, 2014