Are Prisons the New Mental Health Hospitals?

Saturday, May 09, 2015
(photo: Getty Images)

When state governments closed many mental hospitals in the 1970s, it didn’t solve the problem of what to do with the mentally ill, it merely moved it—to jails and prisons.


“There are now more psychologists working in state prisons than (in) state hospitals in this country,” Dr. Jeffrey Metzner, a psychiatrist with the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center, said according to The Crime Report.


But some are trying to change that. The National Association of Counties, the Council of State Governments Justice Center, and the American Psychiatric Foundation have begun an initiative to reduce the number of mentally ill and substance abusers in jails. They’ll focus on creating model programs for state and local jurisdictions to emulate. County officials will be urged to find what services are available in their communities, identify those in need of care and develop plans to implement the new programs.


There is even a little money coming for such efforts. The federal Excellence in Mental Health Act, passed last year, sets aside $25 million for two-year pilot “certified community behavioral health clinics,” in eight states to increase local access to intensive care.


The closure of mental hospitals four decades ago was supposed to have been accompanied by increased funding for community-based care. Most of the money was never appropriated, leaving many of the mentally ill on the streets, where police deal with the symptoms of the problem without being able to provide a cure.


Studies have shown that those with mental health issues can be kept out of jails if they’re monitored. Assisted Outpatient Treatment laws provide for the monitoring of patients to ensure they’re taking prescribed medication.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Breaking the Mental Health Pipeline to Jail (by Graham Kates, The Crime Report)

Stepping Up: A National Initiative to Reduce the Number of People with Mental Illnesses in Jails (pdf)

10 Times as Many Americans with Severe Mental Illness are in Prison or Jail than in State Mental Hospitals (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Steve Straehley, AllGov)

2 Million Mentally Ill Americans per Year Are Put in Prisons Rather than Mental Hospitals (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)


Beaumont 9 years ago
Consider the history of imprisonment. What is the only, post-Enlightenment excuse for caging a live human being. Remember, it cannot legitimately be portrayed as sadism, which would be impolite. Caging is not intended to restore the victim of tangible losses. State-credentialed psychs mainly seem to deconstruct peoples' worldviews and give them a politically-correct narrative to adopt. In vulgar terms, it is brainwashing. So, we say that reform is the intended purpose of imprisonment. On those terms, it is a charitable arrangement; even the particularly nasty 'patients' are there to receive a form of therapy.
Rick 9 years ago
I worked as a correctional officer for Vermont.When Waterbury State Hospital closed many "residents" were sent to North West State Correctional Facility in St.Albans.The staff referred to it as Waterbury North.without hospitals for those in need,they are continuous prey for the other "inmates" who enjoy "playing" with them and having them act out for them,not to mention physical abuse. We need hospital facilities to actually protect those who otherwise slip through the cracks of the justice system and suffer worse than their own afflictions.

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