Mentally ill in jail The articles inform that more mentally ill people are in jail than in hospitals. According to statistics 159,000 of mentally ill are presently incarcerated in jails and prisons, mostly of crimes committed because they were not being treated. Some of them become violent and may terrorize their families and neighborhoods. Tragically, most of those instances of incarceration are unnecessary. We know what to do, but for economic, legal and ideological reasons, we fail to do it. The deinstitutionalization of the severely mentally ill in the 60 ties qualifies a as one of the largest social experiments in American history.
In 1995, there were 558,239 severely mentally ill patients in the nations public psychiatric hospitals. In 1995, the number has been reduced to 71,619. The deinstitutionalization created an mental illness crisis by discharging people from hospitals without ensuring that they receive medication and rehabilitation services in the community. Consequently, 2.2 million severely mentally ill do not receive any psychiatric treatment.
Mental patients were released from psychiatric hospital in the belief that permitting them to live in a freer environment was more humane and would improve their well-being. Instead, they turned up in prisons where they are virtually devoid of dignity and lack adequate treatment and understanding. Besides, even if they take medications and might get better in jail, there is no guarantee that they will continue with the treatment after they are released into the communities. And so the vicious circle goes on. The solution to the problem is to provide sufficient funding to the community-based mental health system so people could be helped before they become part of the prison system. Services like medication therapy and monitoring, residential services, rehabilitation services and support services are successful in bringing the severely mentally ill back to communities.
As a rule, community services are also less expensive. Instead, we see mental health agencies being closed and stripped of their budgets. As a result the mentally ill have no place to go for treatment and support. According to the article When jails must treat and punish in the September 4, Plain Dealer The Director of Ohio Department of Mental Health, Mike Hogan does not think that the county has a problem with the mentally ill. He believes most of them have been successfully integrated in society, and disagrees that many have been jailed. How very convenient for Mr. Hogan.
Needless to say, such wishful thinking does not help the thousands who in addition to suffering from mental illness suffer from the unjust social system as well. Senator Mike DeWine (R) and Democrat Ted Strickland are working on promoting federal legislation that would fund a pilot court program to direct mentally ill prisoners to treatment facilities instead of jail. They need all our support.