Mental Health is important to everyone. For society to run smoothly, mental illness must be addressed and treated properly. Sadly, the area of mental health has been negatively impacted by many budget cuts. One section of our society being directly impacted is the American prison system.
It is no secret that America has the highest number of incarcerated people in the world per capita. According to the Bureau of Justice, about 1 in 36 adults was under some form of correctional supervision at the end of 2014. This totals about 2.8% of adults in the United States. The figure includes individuals in federal or state prisons, local jails, or those who are on probation or parole.
Our prisons are already filled to capacity. This should be obvious. Why then, did Fredericksburg.com find that American jails are being crowded with the mentally-ill? One reason is found within a survey by the National Nonprofits Treatment Advocacy Center and Public Citizen. They found that, “there is very little training available for officers tasked with inmate care.” Additionally, “state and local governments didn’t set up enough resources on the community level to keep people stabilized.” Their survey also discovered that “almost half of the jails reported 2 percent or less of their initial staff-training was devoted to mental illness.”
A staggering 60 percent of jails said they provided less than two hours of training per year on mental illness issues!
This problem with American prison systems is not entirely the fault of jails or institutions. It may fundamentally have to do with the way America handles mental illness. For most patients to receive long-term psychiatric care, they need to exhibit severe, crisis-level mental illness. This means that a patient can literally be homicidal or suicidal, and need to express thoughts or actions regarding it, before they can get treatment. By then, it is often too late and either a crime has been committed or they have injured themselves.
Take, for example, the case of Jamycheal Mitchell. “Mitchell, 24, was arrested in April 2015 after allegedly stealing $5 worth of junk food from a convenience store in Portsmouth. He was supposed to be sent to Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg for treatment. Instead, he starved to death in August while waiting to be transferred.
Seven months after Mitchell died, it was learned that he was never added to a waiting list at the hospital (despite two court orders). It was also discovered that mental health professionals who were supposed to evaluate him for emergency treatment never did. (Fredericksburg.com).
A patient can literally be homicidal or suicidal, and need to express thoughts or actions regarding it, before they can get treatment.
Mitchell’s case appears to be a clear and tragic example of someone with mental illness falling through the cracks. Fredericksburg.com also reached out to Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, the founder of the Treatment Advocacy Center. His explanation sheds some light on why this is going on. “As mental hospitals were closed or downsized,” he said, “many severely ill patients wound up on the streets. This resulted in about a million seriously mentally ill people living in communities who would have been hospitalized 50 years ago.”
Fredericksburg.com reported that half of those people aren’t receiving treatment. About 200,000 of them are homeless. The ones who do end up in jail usually come out worse than when they went in due to lack of care.
The importance of providing correct care for the mentally ill cannot be understated. With proper funding, there is a good chance that a lot of petty crime, and even violent crime, can be prevented. Of course, expanding treatment programs and community services becomes increasingly difficult without proper funding.
Fredericksburg.com – Mental Health Crisis in Jails Studied
Fredericksburg.com -Lawmakers question inspector general on mentally ill inmate’s death
Bureau of Justice Statistics