The statistics are shocking. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there are almost 2.4 million Americans incarcerated in our prisons and jails. Close to one million inmates have mental illnesses. Approximately 200,000 inmates suffer sexual abuse each year. The vast majority of the sexually abused are inmates with psychiatric problems.
Inmates with mental illnesses are easy prey for the violent inmates and abusive correctional officers. Because of their issues, this inmate population does not have the wherewithal to defend themselves or the ability to voice their complaints in this hostile environment.
Our society has shifted the mentally ill from psychiatric hospitals to our jails and prisons. A number of the inmates with mental illnesses will require incarceration to protect the public. Many mentally ill inmates are imprisoned for non-violent crimes and did not receive appropriate care before incarceration from their communities.
The Los Angeles Times reported last week that 15% of their jailed population suffer from mental illnesses. Officials are reviewing the option of diverting low-risk mentally ill inmates into local treatment programs. In Miami-Dade County in Florida, officials have made significant changes in the way the criminal justice system treated mentally ill defendants. The correctional system is now focused on county resources of diversion and treatment in order to reduce the jail population. The new program has reported success.
We need to decriminalize the mental ill by funding treatment programs for them. By doing so, we do not have to keep building more prisons and the problem of prison-jail overcrowding will vanish. By doing so, our society will protect the mentally ill from sexual abuse and violence in our jails and prisons.