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The Government’s Role in Keeping the Mentally Ill out of Prison


Keeping the Mentally Ill Out of Prison

The importance of getting proper treatment for mental health disorders cannot be overstated. Not only does it provide relief for the afflicted, but it also eases the challenges facing the person’s loved ones. Everyone dealing with mental illness deserves adequate care – but not everyone gets it.

All over the country, prison inmates with serious psychiatric conditions, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression and PTSD, are not getting the treatment they need. For some, it was their disorder that landed them in a cell in the first place, as being in the wrong state of mind led them to make poor behavioral decisions.

But people with mental issues don’t belong in a correctional facility. They need to get treatment in a mental health hospital, such as Houston Behavioral, so they can receive care instead of confinement. Sending a mentally ill person to prison accomplishes nothing. Without treatment, a person who has been incarcerated before is likely to end up back in a cell again because of the same ailment. In fact, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported in 2006 that almost one-fourth of inmates with mental illness had been incarcerated at least four times.

It’s clear there’s a problem, but what’s important to know is why.

Understanding the Mental Illness Problem in Prisons

Mental Illness Problem in Prison

According to research shared by the Treatment Advocacy Center, there were approximately 356,268 incarcerated adults with a serious mental illness in prisons and jails across the country as of 2012. That number is 10-times greater than the number of mentally ill people that were in psychiatric hospitals. The individuals in jails and prisons don’t usually receive adequate medical care, and many actually experience worsening symptoms due to the isolation and neglect.

Additionally, those dealing with a disorder are often more likely to suffer physical injury, either as a result of prison fights or self-harm. Research from a county jail in Washington revealed that 77 percent of suicide attempts were from inmates with a chronic psychiatric problem. It’s obvious sending unstable individuals to prison instead of providing treatment is not effective. Unfortunately, that is often the chosen solution.

Why Do the Mentally Ill Wind Up in Prison?

Mentally Ill Patient in Cuffs

The intimidating and limiting prison environment is not conducive to mental stability, and many inmates who go into prison with psychiatric illness have additional problems when leaving. On the institutional level, imprisoning those with illness just creates unnecessary overcrowding. Even with these realities, incarcerating the mentally unstable has been an issue since the 1960s, when state psychiatric hospitals were closed in favor of community care.

This initiative, although driven by good intentions, made it harder for those with mental illness to get treatment. Few private facilities were created and locking these people up was much easier than providing a comprehensive treatment program. But without the support individuals with psychiatric disorders need, too many turn to drugs and alcohol to numb their thoughts and quiet their feelings. To support their habit, some eventually turn to theft or prostitution, which is what ultimately lands them in jail.

Because of all of the negative consequences of incarcerating the mentally ill, the government has acknowledged the problem and is finding opportunities to offer support and resources.

How the Government Curbs the Mental Health Problem in Prisons

Government Involvement

Although it is a slow and challenging process, the correctional system is beginning to move in the right direction when it comes to deinstitutionalizing the mentally ill. The government is offering assistance to help establish the following programs and solutions.

Training Local Police to Understand Mental Health Issues

The Center for American Progress has noted in a recent report that police departments around the country are beginning to partner with social services and health departments in their communities to establish pre-arrest and pre-booking diversion programs. A Crisis Intervention Team has also been created in more than 2,700 communities to train law enforcement, affected individuals and health providers in the proper response to severe cases involving mental illness, what community resources are available, and the process of involuntary hospitalization. The ultimate goal with these programs and training is diverting mentally ill individuals to community-based assistance instead of arresting them.

Establishing Mental Health Support Centers

Some communities are creating support centers and Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) programs for individuals encountering the police due to mental illness. These resources often include case management, professional treatment services, rent subsidies, medication management, family support, and assistance with coordinating housing and employment.

Collecting Data on the Imprisoned Mentally Ill

Health screenings have been initiated to track the individuals with mental illness that end up in prison. The Centers for Disease Control produced a National Health Statistics Report in July that surveyed corrections system officials in 45 states to collect data on the provision of health care services in state prisons. According to this research, all 45 states responded that they offered qualified, professional mental health screenings to at least some of their admitted inmates. This tracking of data surrounding condition of individuals with psychiatric conditions at both admission and release can help guide future deinstitutionalization efforts.

Continuing to Develop Effective Mental Health Facilities

Communities Developing Effective Mental Health Facilities

Ensuring easy access to quality mental health care facilities is a major step in reducing incarceration rates for those with psychiatric disabilities. More behavioral hospitals are opening to offer comprehensive treatment options for both the affected individual and his or her family. This helps keep the mentally ill off the streets and out of prison, but also actually contributes to bettering the community as a whole by making these individuals well.

For those in the Houston, Texas, area, many facilities are available for both inpatient and outpatient options. Houston Behavioral Healthcare Hospital is a great choice, as it offers both types of services in one reputable establishment.

Psychiatric conditions are real health problems that generally don’t just get better on their own, and the only answer for dealing with them is treatment. Sending individuals with mental illness to prison is not the answer. The government and public services have noticed and are starting to make positive changes to our systems while working to provide better solutions – but our communities need to help. If you or someone you know is suffering from a psychiatric disorder and needs quality, comprehensive treatment, contact Houston Behavioral Hospital. We offer free assessments and a variety of treatment programs that will help you better manage your mental health.

Making changes to our correctional systems is important, but the problem can be avoided if people get the proper care they need before ever coming in contact with the police. Call us at 877-489-4707 today and we will do our part to prevent the further criminalization of mental illness.