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Criminalizing Mental Illness



Criminalizing Mental Illness


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Criminalizing Mental Illness

Are America’s prisons the new mental hospitals?

America’s Shameful Past

By 2012: there were 10X as many mentally ill individuals in jail or prison than in mental hospitals

• Jailed: 365,000
• Hospitals: 35,000

16: percentage of males in prison now, suffer from some form of severe mental illness

That’s up from:
6.4: the percentage of males in prison with mental illness in 1983

40: percentage of individuals with serious mental illnesses have been in jail or prison at some time in their lives

Nowhere Else to Put Them?

In 1955 there was one psychiatric bed for every 300 Americans.
In 2005 there was one psychiatric bed for every 3,000 Americans

Over 1 in 3 State prisoners,
1 in 4 Federal prisoners, and
1 in 6 jail inmates who had a mental health problem had received treatment since admission

Prisons are bad for mental health; here’s why:
• overcrowding
• violence,
• solitude/lack of privacy
• no meaningful activity
• isolation
• insecurity about the future
• inadequate health services
• high incidence of suicide

Suicide, the leading cause of local jail inmate deaths, remained at about the same level in 2010 (305 suicides) as in 2009 (304), although the number has trended upward slightly since 2006

What to do for those in prison?
• Divert people towards the mental health system
• Access to mental health care
• Access to psychiatric wards of general hospitals
• Psychotropic medication
• Better trained staff
• Provide information/education to prisoners and their families on mental health issues
• Better prison management
• Protect their human rights

These organizations help prisoners with mental issues:

Bureau of Justice Assistance

Human Rights Defense Center

Mind Freedom

Prison Reform Trust

Treatment Advocacy Center


Bureau of Justice Statistics

( Original Source– )

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RhondaUrilmSpago54PrisonPathShaukatJudy Recent comment authors
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jan reeves

The laws need to change so the judges can send those with MI to mental health care rather than jail/prison. Currently the individual can refuse if competent. As those that work with MI at any given time those with MI fluctuate between competency and incompetency. Then after being sent prison, if not severe are placed in special needs areas and they often are idle all day. The time comes for release and parole has to pick up the pieces. Another complicating factor is for ALL the criminal justice systems be able to have computer access to the records. If each… Read more »


Judy, in all fairness, and maybe this is mean, however; if the man that killed my best friend has no where to retreat when he’s stressed, do I give a crap? Hell no. At least he is still breathing amd walking around. Unlike the lives he has ruined.
If they needed somewhere to retreat too, oh well. Tough noogies. Do u see what I mean though?
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By Laura


Shaukat Mahmood
Inspector General Prisons (Retired)

untreated serious brain disorders comprise approximately 16 percent of the total jail and prison inmate population, or nearly 319,000 individuals. These individuals are often incarcerated with misdemeanor charges but sometimes with felony charges as a result of behaviors caused by their psychotic thinking. People with untreated psychiatric illnesses spend twice as much time in jail as non-ill individuals and are more likely to commit suicide.


Sadly, this has been going on forever. In America it was wasn’t until 1833 when they opened up the first state asylum, emptying their jails and almshouses did we acknowledge the problem at all. The Worcester State Asylum was over its 120 bed capacity within the first 6 months. This is not a new problem, just a very expensive solutions.


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