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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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35 Responses to Criminalizing Mental Illness

  1. PrisonPath April 10, 2015 at 1:05 pm #

    I believe that officers on patrol have run ins or see a person who is mentally ill in their patrol area and probably had to tell that person to move or not sleep here or received a call about a trespasser, etc. After a couple of run ins, calls or stops the officer decides that he is spending to much time with this person and arrest that person for a minor offense to either get him/her help or to remove him/her from the area. No, it is not fair but the officer is responsible to protect a vast area and most stations are short of personnel. Once the mentally ill person is in jail that person may have other chargers added on and finally wind up in prison. There are some mentally ill people who trying to get out of the cold weather in the winter would rather spend the winter in jail or prison. Some go back to prison/jail to continue their medical treatment or to get off drugs.
    By Harold

  2. jan reeves April 11, 2015 at 5:42 pm #

    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 department has a different operating system then vital information is often omitted and much delay takes place, costing more taxpayer $$.
    Just some observations

  3. PrisonPath April 13, 2015 at 1:59 pm #

    Yes Bradley,this is the irony of fate that the only super power in the world with all its civilized modern knowledge has utterly failed to understand the difference between a jail and an hospital,between a a patient and a criminal,between thieves robbers murderers and the metal patients heart patients .The mental patients the non criminal lunatics are being kept in prisons in thousands instead of mental hospitals and mental asylums,They are being treated by ex servicemen prison guards instead psychologists and psychiatrists.
    All this is helping “more the inmates in prisons,More the profits for private prison corporations”
    The government in US is run by corporate sector,for Gods sake keep the criminal justice system clean from profiteers.
    By Shaukat

  4. PrisonPath April 13, 2015 at 2:00 pm #

    America running out of tears,Time to demand a cure!
    By Judge G.

  5. PrisonPath April 13, 2015 at 2:00 pm #

    Carolyn Gallichio
    Executive and Clinical Director at ADVOCATE COUNSELING SERVICES

    For sure! I have witnessed some sad stories this past week that’s for sure!

  6. PrisonPath April 13, 2015 at 2:01 pm #

    I’m not trying to be the odd one here, however; let’s call a spade a spade. They are not in jail because they are mentally ill. They are in jail because they are criminals. They are criminals because they have worthless public defenders. They have public defenders because they can’t afford real attorneys. If they can’t afford attorneys, they certainly cannot afford medical coverage. If they can’t afford medical coverage, they can’t afford their medicine. If they can’t afford their medicine, it really doesn’t matter what mental illness they have. In the state of Florida, you can’t make more that $574.00 a month for a family of 4 in order to get medicaid. Yes, u read that correctly. Family of 4 cannot make more that $575.00 per month. The average 2
    bedroom apartment is 1600.00 a month.
    So you tell me where the problem is…see my point!
    Everybody wants to make change to the “justice system”. They aren’t the real problem.
    By Laura

  7. PrisonPath April 13, 2015 at 2:02 pm #

    They get medicine when they are in prison. Then what? They come home and can’t afford their meds. Don’t you think many of these “model” prisoners continue to go back because it’s the only place they feel comfortable. Studies show that it is because of the institutionalization, and that might be partially true in some cases, however; show me a man or women that was found innocent after serving years in jail. They don’t go back. Why? Because they probably weren’t on meds that made them “normal”. People continue to go back because they can get medicine that makes them able to deal with themselves. Legally. Mentally ill or not, humans know when their head is right and when it’s not. They will chase the normalcy head if given the option. (With the exception of people like manson, Dahmer, ect)
    By Laura

  8. PrisonPath April 13, 2015 at 2:02 pm #

    Shaukat Mahmood
    Inspector General Prisons (Retired)

    Do the different dimensions of this inhumanity deter us to find solution?

  9. PrisonPath April 13, 2015 at 2:03 pm #

    I like the comment on medication leading to the return to prison,but it is unprovable and counterintuitive.Most innocent people do not return to prison,because they innocent.However, when you have a mentally ill person who is innocent,then you have a legal and moral calamity.The truth is,at least in the federal prison system,there is no mental health treatment. As a lawyer,this is appalling.This affects the innocent and guilty and those in the middle . I saw many cases in prison with privately retained counsel where the lawyers were totally asleep at the switch and didn’t even bring mental health concerns to the Court’s attention which is required by the infamous guidelines.
    By Walter

  10. PrisonPath April 13, 2015 at 2:04 pm #

    In my opinion, the ONLY real solution is to offer free medicine to everyone Obviously the government will never do that, because they don’t really care about criminals or the mentally ill. It is a sad reality that people are looking to fix the wrong problem.
    By Laura

  11. PrisonPath April 13, 2015 at 2:05 pm #

    Walter..I know we are talking about criminal court here, however; I can tell you that the silence of mental illness in family court is ignored everyday, Mother, father and sometimes child I am not an attorney, however; I did play one for 4 years, successfully, (my own custody nightmare) and from what I learned is that judges do not want to hear about mental illnesses. I kind of understand it though because it is not an excuse. There are many people with severe mental illnesses that do not commit crimes. The irony is that most of the people that have mental illnesses who live good lives, usually get medicine they need.
    I can relate it too family court, in which judges will take away your kids 9 out of 10 times if you “claim” your x sexually abused your child. People in general have abused it so much and ruined it for those that ar telling the truth.

    It is provable (meds) if they conducted a test. I did my masters in criminal justice and I mentioned it to my professors many times. He said it was a fantastic idea that no one has ever really thought of, however; the testing for that would be far to extensive and expensive for them to conduct it.
    By Laura

  12. PrisonPath April 13, 2015 at 2:05 pm #

    I did a great deal of family law and I agree that the term mentally ill causes custody to change immediately.The mother is usually blamed for the unknown abuse by a male friend or husband. The system is slanted,but usually in the direction of bias against the mentally ill in criminal and civil cases.Meds are only part of the equation-it lack of overall treatment. You are always going to have your sociopathic people using mental illness as an excuse,but that’s not a major problem. The problem is “if you ignore a problem,it will go away.I base what i say on 40= years of practice and 30= years as a professor of criminal justice. I appreciate your comments and they are well taken.
    By Walter

  13. PrisonPath April 16, 2015 at 2:20 pm #

    Substance abuse counselor

    CASA Columbia University reports that 85% of people incarcerated in the US meet substance abuse dependence criteria; this coupled with mental illness is the problem. Major changes in drug laws and how we divert folks to treatment need to take place. However there is another issue of better joining mental health providers with substance abuse providers. There has been much better developments in bringing these two fields together however there is still a ways to go. Many providers have limited training on both subjects. All three systems coming together is the ultimate solution. Judicial, substance abuse and mental illness. As a substance abuse clinician working in a county jail i see the need first hand. I can also say from first hand experience things have evolved. I spent 6 years incarcerated myself in my late teens earlier twenties. Things have certainly progressed in regards to resources and re-entry and diversion programs. Im on board with doing my part to continue to advocate counsel and support this cause.
    Unlike Reply privately Flag as inappropriate 6 days ago

  14. Judy April 18, 2015 at 1:15 pm #

    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?
    Like Reply privately Flag as inappropriate 1 day ago.
    By Laura

  15. Shaukat April 18, 2015 at 1:17 pm #

    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.

  16. PrisonPath April 22, 2015 at 12:36 pm #

    Ed Barajas
    –Freelance writer

    Prisons are the new mental health hospitals? Of course they are. That’s what happens when the knee jerk response is to deinstitutionalize. Now the same like-minded people who deinstitutionalized mental health care want to do the same for prisons.

    They use guilt as their weapon of choice to suggest that incarceration is terrible. They use meaningless incarceration rates to show that we’re more oppressive than countries like N Korea and Iran. They describe the plight of poor souls in “solitary confinement.” There’s even a movement to do away with life without parole sentences because it takes away hope from the offender. Hope of what? Killing again? LWOP has been touted as the best alternative to the death penalty by the same group that now wants to abolish it.

    Deinstitutionalization is not the solution to anything. That should be clear to all of us by now. The vast majority of mass shoutings in our country involve mentally ill people who exhibited warning signs long before the incident but could not be committed until they actually killed someone. I guess we would call that progress.

  17. PrisonPath April 22, 2015 at 12:36 pm #

    I definitely think we need to work on building new mental illness hospitals because placing someone who is not mentally stable into the prison system is not safe for other prisoners, employees, and the mentally ill themselves.
    By Brianna

  18. PrisonPath April 22, 2015 at 12:37 pm #

    Toto. What most people in our country, and probably the world, don’t seem to know (they’re never told) is that incarceration in the US is not the sanction of choice. More than two thirds of our corrections population is under community supervision rather than locked up. In some states the community supervision segment of corrections is more than 80% of the total.

    So in our country when we talk about alternatives to incarceration we should understand that incarceration IS an alternative sentence. We also have a lot of “country club” prisons that are every bit as cushy, comfy, (if those are the right words) as those in Sweden or any place else. These too are condemned as being “too soft.” The corrections business in the USA is in the damned if you do damned if you don’t department.
    By ED

  19. PrisonPath April 22, 2015 at 12:38 pm #

    The end result of sending the mentally ill to prison rather than a more appropriate facility is a result of funding, or a lack thereof, as Ed and others eloquently stated. Think about the Law Officer on the street and the very few options that they have in dealing with the mentally ill on the street. In California, unless the individual fits 5150 W&I criteria: 1. Danger to Self; 2. Danger to others, or 3. Is Gravely Disabled, the criminal path is the only other option.

    If someone commits a crime and is detained at a psychiatric facility, they may be back on the street before the officer. There is no consequence to bad behavior and the cycle continues.

    There is definitely a need to house and track individuals through the criminal justice system in order to keep them in treatment. If treatment is only voluntary, you cannot expect a severely mentally ill individual to make a rational decision to remain in treatment. Laura’s Law is a step in the right direction. Although over 10 years old, the optional legislation was enacted by only 2 counties up to 2014. Since then, several other counties joined in to get severely mentally ill into treatment BEFORE the crime is committed.

    The answer is somewhere in between. More funding needs to go to residential programs and treatment and there needs to be locked facilities where individuals need to remain under court supervision, and sometimes that means keeping them away from the general public.
    By Jim

  20. PrisonPath April 22, 2015 at 12:43 pm #

    Ed Barajas
    –Freelance writer

    We seem to believe that if you build them (mental health and drug treatment facilities) they will come. As Jim stated, the severely mentally ill as well as those with severe drug addictions don’t tend to voluntarily seek treatment. They need “encouragement”, and prodding from an authority. This is where the justice system can do the greatest good by collaborating with treatment providers.

    Good strides are being made in the court system through community courts and mental health courts.

  21. PrisonPath April 22, 2015 at 12:44 pm #

    As long as mental illness is seen differently than any other physical illness, as a “lesser malady”, and the norm is to push the problem towards corrections to handle it, it is easy to criminalize mental illness.
    By Stephen

  22. PrisonPath April 22, 2015 at 12:45 pm #

    I would like to clarify one thing. Mental illness does not absolve offenders from responsibility for a criminal act. I am sorry if I am preaching here to the converted, but we should also discuss severity. Minor offenses are easy, but when a mentally ill subject commits an act that is serious and illegal, he doesn’t get a pass. Next argument then starts, “yeah but he should get treatment and not warehousing.” I get it, but if you visit prisons you will see the mental illness very plainly. Then when you examine what they did, the answer is not so clear. I just wish more folks would equate the offense to the offender…. and not just say all mentally ill should get treatment and not prison. That’s simply not true. EX: when someone mentally ill sexually batters a child, and he knew it was wrong he is not required to be “normal” to be convicted of that offense.
    Like (1) Reply privately Flag as inappropriate 8 days ago.
    By Michael

  23. PrisonPath April 22, 2015 at 12:45 pm #

    Ed Barajas
    –Freelance writer

    Great point Mike. “Reformers” often use certain words or phrases for effect. “The mentally ill” is one of these. “Children” is another one that’s used to describe the appalling state of juvenile justice. No clarification if these “children” are locked up for truancy or for mass murder and everything in between. My favorite is “non-violent offender.” Al Capone was locked up for tax evasion. He would have qualified as a “non-violent offender.”

    I put the word reformer in parenthesis because these people sometimes (more often than not) do more harm than good with their reforms. It then requires reforms of the reform of the last reform. And the “reform industry” remains viable.

    A correctional system that was invented by a group of religious zealots to change drunks and other social misfits through penance needs to be transformed to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century. That last thing it needs is more reform to keep it true to the mission foisted upon it in the nineteenth century.

  24. PrisonPath April 22, 2015 at 12:46 pm #

    Corrections has been forced to make changes as the political sector makes sweeping changes relative to providing facilities for inpatient services for the mentally ill. The most challenging change was the rampant closing of inpatient facilities for the mentally ill leaving the problem in the local community. These closings created struggles for corrections as they have been with either no change or even reduced staffing and budgets to handle the new demands. The added training for correctional staff as well as the need for mental health staff along with the costs of psychotropic medication is overwhelming local, state and federal corrections.
    I do not believe mental illness is an excuse for criminal behavior, but the current situation is that corrections has become the new inpatient facility which it is neither equipped nor staffed to handle in many situations.
    By Stephen

  25. PrisonPath April 22, 2015 at 12:47 pm #

    Ed Barajas
    –Freelance writer

    The good news is that the needed transformational changes have been occurring in the justice system for the past 20 + years. Even better news is that these changes have occurred primarily from within the system rather than forced upon it through outside forces such as legislation and court orders.

    The system is becoming more community focused. The advent of community policing has spawned community prosecution, community courts, and community probation and parole. Even prisons and jails have adopted the Crime Prevention Trough Environmental Design (CPTED) concept to design and manage new jails and prisons. You could call it the prisons and jails version of community policing.

    This “Quite Revolution” is yielding positive results.

  26. PrisonPath April 22, 2015 at 12:48 pm #

    If you were to take an overview of the litigation brought against corrections along with state mandated “minimum standards” imposed, you might consider this as changes brought about from outside of the system. Corrections normally does not implement change from within but only when compelled to from outside of their area of con troll. Transformational changes occurring in the justice system as a larger entity, including the court system, have been influenced by outside sources but have also been slow because of political agendas.
    Changes that have occurred have normally been positive but slow to happen. Corrections, like law enforcement, is slow to react and typically bogged down by internal bureaucracy and local fiscal restraints. Corrections is usually seen as being at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to local and state budget development and typically the top of the list when it comes to stalemate or cuts to staffing and budget. I doubt this is community focused.
    By Stephen

  27. PrisonPath April 22, 2015 at 12:49 pm #

    n the 1970’s the Federal Bureau of Prisons pioneered the use of a new type of institutional design called the direct supervision model. This model has now spread throughout the correctional system. Direct supervision borrows heavily from the principles of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design. This came about because of forward thinking leadership within the BOP rather than because of legislation or court orders.

    Experts have long predicted that our overcrowded prisons would soon erupt into violence in a rash of disturbances. In fact, just the opposite has happened. Prisons have become much more peaceful in the past 30 years. Better staff training and inmate classification systems have dramatically decreased prison homicides. Between 1980 and 2003 the state prison homicide rate dropped from 54.0 per 100,000 inmates to an astounding 5.7 per 100,000. These have made Attica type uprisings virtually a thing of the past.

    Between 1983 and 2002 jail suicide rates dropped 64 percent. State prison suicide rates, historically much lower than the rate in jails, dropped from 34 per 100,000 inmates to 14 per 100,000 during the same period.

    The most important point is that prison reformers should rejoice at such good news but they choose to keep portraying prisons/jails as if nothing’s changed in the past 45 years.
    By Ed

  28. PrisonPath April 22, 2015 at 12:50 pm #

    The history of direct supervision facility has led to many improvements in corrections and the long-term benefits such as reduced violence and suicides has been a major result. The obvious struggle that is faced in corrections is staffing, training and adjusting to societal changes such as how they deal with mentally ill offenders as well as the practice of dumping mentally ill into local facilities as there are no other options. The increased mentally ill offender population has exponentially added to budget demands as well as providing trained correctional staff and mental health care staff.
    In a mental health housing unit, direct supervision is dramatically increased due to the number of documented watches that are necessary to comply with policy and procedures as well as minimum standards established by the State. All of this commands more money due to staffing requirements as well as the stress placed on staff and administration.
    I had the opportunity to work in a direct supervision facility modeled after a Federal high-rise direct supervision facility called an MCC. We were able to maintain dramatically low suicides due to our commitment to being aware of the signs, symptoms and behavior associated with suicide.
    By Stephen

  29. PrisonPath April 22, 2015 at 12:50 pm #

    Ed Barajas
    –Freelance writer

    Stephen. “The most important question to be asked is “are they prepared to handle the demanding needs that come with inpatient mental health?”

    That’s an excellent question. An even better question in retrospect should have been: In view of efforts to deinstitutionalize mental health treatment, should prisons become the new mental health facilities? We tend to ignore the law of unintended consequences at our peril.

    That’s why I tend to repeat like a mantra that it’s not about the answers. It’s about the questions–the crucial questions that must be asked but seldom–if ever–are.

    Back to something I mentioned earlier about the justice system becoming more community focused and how corrections is part of this. I think corrections is, at long last, starting to view it’s mission in terms of community safety and well-being. Traditionally the focus has been on the offender with rehabilitation or punishment being two sides of the same coin. Corrections is starting to realize that punishment and rehabilitation are not the “what” of the business–they’re the “how”. Community safety is the goal and punishment and rehabilitation are tools, along with others, that help accomplish the goal. Rather than playing one against the other, as we’ve done for too long, it’s better to balance both as equally worthy means to an end.

    Many academics and others who have a stake in either camp (mostly rehabilitation) will find this notion hard to accept because it doesn’t declare one as dominant over the other as far as the main focus of the work.

  30. PrisonPath April 22, 2015 at 12:51 pm #

    I have found that WHO asks the questions as well as WHO provides the answers is most important. Many times those who ask the questions are not in a position to be heard and those that have the answers seem to be involved in a quagmire of bureaucracy and personal agendas.
    The questions are being asked but “pragmatic” issues come into play. Budget is one but also the practice of “that’s way it’s been done, so why change” continues to get in the way. Also, the number of political players involved can hinder the process.
    As to deinstitutionalize mental health treatment and where do we place the at-risk has become too easy to move to the obvious – incarceration. With the current issues facing law enforcement, corrections takes a further step back in terms of public awareness and caring.
    By Stephen

  31. PrisonPath April 22, 2015 at 12:52 pm #

    I agree Stephen. As far as policymaking at the legislative and judicial level the answers tend to be provided by “experts” who have a lot of classroom and research experience but little practical experience. Research is great, even crucial, but most of what passes for research is often biased and slanted toward one ideological view or another rather than favoring the scientific method.
    By Ed

  32. PrisonPath April 22, 2015 at 12:53 pm #

    Maybe I missed it, but did any of the previous comments mention the numbers of nonviolent female offenders that have mental health issues?
    By Denise

  33. PrisonPath April 22, 2015 at 12:54 pm #

    Due to the stresses placed on correction facilities and staff, a meaningful evaluation at the beginning of the judicial process for non-violent offenders must be implemented. This could include a diversion program for first time offenders, mentally I’ll offenders and those offenders that are MR-DD. I do not believe we should excuse these offenders from accountability rather move them away from traditional incarceration to more appropriate options beginning with the judicial process.
    By Stephen

  34. PrisonPath April 22, 2015 at 12:55 pm #

    Denise. I can’t speak for anyone else (although I think all would agree with me) but when I speak of the mentally ill in prisons I mean all races, genders and types of offenders–violent and non-violent.

    I think we have to learn from our mistakes of how we (mis)handled the mental health problem in our country and not repeat those same mistakes with the CJS by deinstitutionalizing prisons. Again, reformers will say they don’t want to deinstitutionalize prisons for the “most violent offenders” but no one seems to stop to ask what that means exactly.

    I DO believe that short of involuntary commitment for the most severely mentally ill, the CJS has the most promise of addressing the problem, but first it must be transformed within a new sense of mission and purpose and SOP’s.
    By ED

  35. Spago54 July 7, 2015 at 5:22 pm #

    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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