This podcast features a Miami-Dade judge that is focusing on changing the course of treatment for people with mental illness. He talks about the cost of dealing with people who cycle through the justice system and how Miami is dealing with the problem. It also talks to a sheriff from Austin, Texas that says they are taking steps to improve treatment but it is not enough to keep people from reentering prison after being released.
The common denominator in most crimes is drug and alcohol abuse. The combination of mental illness and substance abuse can have debilitating effects. Read more about the correlation between mental illness and substance abuse here.
According to the article U.S. Sees First Decrease in Prison Population in Nearly 40 Years, “studies show a continued decline in non-violent incidents as well as overall arrests. There are about 17,100 inmates in the 17-prison system, down more than 2,000 from four years ago. Officials estimate that by 2014, the population will drop to a low of 15,000 — a level not seen since 1997.” This decline in the number of people shows that lawmakers are less likely to send nonviolent people to prison. This means that people with mental illnesses are less likely to end up in jail which prevents their illnesses from being exacerbated.
The above video is devastating. The video features commentary from a correctional officer, inmate watcher and a psychologist. It brings to life the emotional suffering of the inmates filmed by Jenn Ackerman. This is by far the most powerful resource that can be found on mental illness in prison.
While doing research on mental health in Prison, it was much easier to find older statistics then current ones. Here is a study done by the Bureau of Justice in 1999. The older study is nice to reference when looking at the change of data. You can read my prior post on the study done in 2006 and compare it with the numbers of the older study here.
This blog post is by Doctor Allen Francis on the need for better mental health care and gun control. Francis asserts that both have been neglected which is the reason behind the mass violence that we are seeing today. Francis quotes Professor Amanda Pustilnik saying, “The problem is that housing and treatment sound like ‘entitlements’- while prison sounds like (and is) punishment. As a culture that prizes self-reliance, we are cautious about extending benefits and suspicious of rewarding people for what looks like bad behavior. The punishment of people with mental illnesses who act out in public might also seem to fit with a certain notion of public order and personal responsibility.” This is an interesting take on why we’ve shifted to punishment of mental illness.
Doctor Allen Francis’s blog “Saving Normal” has a number of other posts that can be useful in analyzing the treatment of people with mental illness such as When is it Justified to Force Treatment on Someone and Sexual abuse of Psychiatric patients in Prison.
This photograph shows inmates in California that are housed in segregation being made to exercise in cages. The similarity between these cages and dog kennels is striking. How is it acceptable to treat humans this way?
In an effort to reduce jail population, a panel in California has proposed that a limit be placed on how long mentally ill inmates can be in solitary confinement. Lawmakers have also proposed that more funding should be given to substance abuse and mental health programs in order to lower jail populations. You can read more on this story here.
In May, the Department of Justice found that Pennsylvania State Prison Cresson “came to rely on solitary confinement as a means of warehousing many of its prisoners with serious mental illness because of deficiencies relating to its mental health program. Those systemic deficiencies include a disorganized and fragmented mental health program, marginalization of mental health staff, and disciplinary procedures that result in the punishment of disability-related behaviors and the placement of actively psychotic prisoners into harsh solitary confinement.” Because of these findings the USDOJ concluded that Pennsylvania Department of Corrections was violating inmates 8th Amendment rights. You can read more about this story here.