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September 6, 2011

"Nation's Jails Struggle With Mentally Ill Prisoners"

The title of this post is the headline of this recent NPR "cover story" story from All Things Considered, which get set-up on the NPR website this way:

Three hundred and fifty thousand: That's a conservative estimate for the number of offenders with mental illness confined in America's prisons and jails.

More Americans receive mental health treatment in prisons and jails than in hospitals or treatment centers.  In fact, the three largest inpatient psychiatric facilities in the country are jails: Los Angeles County Jail, Rikers Island Jail in New York City and Cook County Jail in Illinois.

"We have a criminal justice system which has a very clear purpose: You get arrested.  We want justice.  We try you, and justice hopefully prevails.  It was never built to handle people that were very, very ill, at least with mental illness," Judge Steve Leifman tells Laura Sullivan, guest host of weekends on All Things Considered.

September 6, 2011 at 10:48 AM | Permalink


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I can't believe the jail in Houston didn't make the top three.

In Texas, even the mental hospitals outside of jails and prisons are now dominated by patients from the criminal justice system (via competency restoration). Committing a crime is nearly the only way to secure inpatient mental health treatment anymore.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Sep 6, 2011 11:38:40 AM

Progressives can't have it both ways. You can not campaign to close state mental hospitals and then complain about "criminalizing mental illness."

There are a significant number of mentally ill who are a danger to themselves or others and who will not voluntarily comply with a medication regimen.

Posted by: mjs | Sep 6, 2011 3:47:24 PM

"Committing a crime is nearly the only way to secure inpatient mental health treatment anymore."

My own experience is that, with the exception of sex crimes, virtually the only reason people commit crime is to get drugs or money without having to work. They're not seeking help. They're seeking moola.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 6, 2011 4:25:38 PM

mjs --

"Progressives can't have it both ways."

This is one of the few times I must disagree. Progressives can have it both ways, or three or four ways. This is so because They Are Better Than You Are -- just ask them.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 6, 2011 4:28:58 PM

Very rough estimates are 1 in 20 persons has a mental illness, one in a 1000 persons requires 24 x 7 supervision because of a serious mental illness and one in 10,000 will require lifetime supervision in a secure facility. Evidently for a substantial fraction of those that require lifetime supervision the mental illness was the result of trauma.

Psychiatric hospitals are under financial pressure to release within 30 days, the few remaining state mental hospitals are programed to release within a few months. Prisons can provide long duration supervision of the mentally ill but should they be used for that purpose?

Posted by: John Neff | Sep 6, 2011 6:05:14 PM

About a third of jail beds in the US are filled by mental patients with state hospital grade condition, such as untreated paranoid schizophrenia. The latter patients kill aobut 2000 people a year. See, Cho (30 murder victims), Loughner (6 murder victims). Schizophrenia and manic depressive disorders are not caused by trauma. They are leat run in families, and both share the same genetic loci located so far.

The care they receive in jail is pretty good. Many are there after acting up or making noise on a bus. Their bail is set at $1, but no one is coming forward with a dollar. And for good reason. They are doing better in jail than loose on the street.

I would accept such a situation. If these prisoners are released, wherever they land, the real estate values will drop to zero or nagative territory (people would refuse to be paid to take your house next door to one). So tax money is well spent on keeping them in jail. With everything counted, they likely cost the jail $100 a day, compared to $50 for other inmates. But compared to hospital costs of $1000 a day, we are getting an adequate bargain.

The jailing of the mentally ill should be encouraged with more generous tax funding. As an outstanding investment in real estate values returning 10,000% on investment, at least.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 6, 2011 11:14:28 PM

A police department in CA appears to have a curious solution — beat the mentally ill person to death.

Posted by: Jim Brady | Sep 8, 2011 7:54:39 AM

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