According to Michigan Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard, “Jails have become the dumping ground” for the mentally ill. The sheriff added, “the state and the federal government have pretty much walked away, in my opinion.” If you think this is an isolated opinion, listen to sheriffs in Indiana. Franklin County Sheriff Kenneth Murphy told the General Assembly that County jails “have become the insane asylum for Indiana.” Indiana Howard County Sheriff Steve Rogers stated that jails are “the largest mental health facilities in most counties.”
This problem began with the community Health Act of 1963 which focused on emptying and closing state mental health hospitals for treatment at community-based facilities. However many community facilities were never built or did not have the resources to care for individuals with severe mental illnesses. In the 1980’s, many state hospitals for the mentally ill were closed due to budget issues. The purported antidote would consist again of community based facilities to treat individuals with mental illnesses. Again, there were no community resources available to help the many mentally ill who were now living on the streets of their towns and cities.
Without effective treatment and care, many of the mentally ill have been arrested for minor offenses repeatedly and reside in county jails. According to Sheriff Heard in Indiana, the number of mentally ill inmates during the last five years that have been arrested at least three times are more than 3,000. The cost for their incarceration is almost $95 million. According to Chief Heard, for many, their real crime is “being sick.”
This is not just a problem in Michigan and Indiana, according to a number of studies, jails and prisons throughout the United States have become the first and last resort to taking care of our mentally ill. The vast majority of our jails and prisons are not equipped to help inmates with mental illnesses. According to a 2014 study by the Treatment Advocacy Center, there were estimated nationally to be 356,268 inmates in 2012 with severe mental illness in jails and prisons. State psychiatric hospitals had approximately 35,000 patients with severe mental illnesses. Many of the incarcerated inmates with mental illnesses in our jails and prisons are locked up for non-violent crimes.
Our present system of treating individuals with mental illnesses waste the lives of these inmates and taxpayer dollars.
By Bradley Schwartz
Founder of prisonpath.com