The Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC) released a report this week that indicated the rising number of mentally ill inmates in American correctional facilities. Jails and prisons currently hold more mentally ill people than state hospitals in America.
Vox reported on the published study and the study found that 356,268 inmates have a severe mental illness, and there has been a major push for deinstitutionalization since the 1950s. Deinstitutionalization is the movement to remove the mentally ill from long-stay mental facilities and place them into community-based treatment centers.
Forty-four states and Washington D.C. have correctional facilities that house more mentally ill people than each of those states’ largest mental health facility. The TAC report outlined many problems caused by housing mentally ill inmates:
Overcrowding from mentally ill inmates incarcerated longer than other inmates
Victimization of prisoners with mental illness
Decreased condition of mental state among mentally ill inmates who aren’t treated
Disproportionate suicide rates
Increased tax burden
For instance, Florida jails and prisons have some of the toughest difficulties in properly caring for its mentally ill jail population. The Dade County Jail system in Miami incarcerates over 6,000 inmates, and the system has become known as the de facto largest “mental institution” in Florida.
Mentally ill inmates “screech and cower at unseen demons,” said a Dade County jail psychiatrist. “They pace furiously and rip their paper gowns off. They urinate on the floor and bathe in the toilet. I don’t even try to describe to people what’s going on here. It’s beyond talking about.”
Mentally ill inmates in Florida stay incarcerated eight times longer than other inmates, and 23 percent of mentally ill inmates are on psychotropic drugs. They cost 63 percent more to care for and house than other inmates, as well. But how do mentally ill people end up in jail in the first place? TAC reported that the reason is because there is a huge lack of community programs focused on treating these people.
Florida news organizations have reported that some mentally ill people within the criminal justice system have been arrested hundreds of times. Henry Farrell of south Florida has been arrested 190 times and has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
If there were an abundance of community programs aimed a mental treatment, they would likely lessen this revolving-door effect visited upon many mentally ill people across the nation.
Studies have found that a regular mental treatment would greatly decrease the chances of people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder getting arrested. However, the current system just perpetuates high crime rates, chronic recidivism, and wasted taxpayer money as these people go unhelped.
Josh is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. Follow him on Twitter @dnJdeli.