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September 27, 2013

"The New Asylums: Jails Swell With Mentally Ill"

P1-BN289_JAIL_p_G_20130925182704The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy new investigative report published in The Wall Street Journal.  Here are excerpts from the important article:

America's lockups are its new asylums. After scores of state mental institutions were closed beginning in the 1970s, few alternatives materialized. Many of the afflicted wound up on the streets, where, untreated, they became more vulnerable to joblessness, drug abuse and crime.

The country's three biggest jail systems — Cook County, in Illinois; Los Angeles County; and New York City — are on the front lines. With more than 11,000 prisoners under treatment on any given day, they represent by far the largest mental-health treatment facilities in the country. By comparison, the three largest state-run mental hospitals have a combined 4,000 beds.

Put another way, the number of mentally ill prisoners the three facilities handle daily is equal to 28% of all beds in the nation's 213 state psychiatric hospitals, according to the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors Research Institute Inc. "In every city and state I have visited, the jails have become the de facto mental institutions," says Esteban Gonzalez, president of the American Jail Association, an organization for jail employees.

Correctional systems define mental illness differently. Generally, the term is used to describe prisoners who require medication for serious issues ranging from major depressive disorders to schizophrenia and bipolar disorders. Also included are inmates with diagnoses that warrant overnight stays in a mental hospital or who demonstrate serious functional impairment.

To get a snapshot of how the U.S. is grappling with such an explosive societal issue, The Wall Street Journal surveyed all 50 states about issues of mental health within their prison populations. Of the 22 states that provided detailed responses, their mental-health patient ratios ranged from one in 10 inmates to one in two. Inmates in all 23 responding states account for 55% of the prisoners in the U.S. under state jurisdiction.

In Oregon, the trend is particularly acute. Officials there estimate that half the state's 14,000 prison inmates suffer from some type of mental-health issue. Several states with large inmate populations, like Michigan and Illinois, reported to the Journal that about 8% to 10% of their inmates suffered from serious mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia. Smaller states, like Montana, said as many as 15% of their inmates suffered from serious mental illness.

Roughly 5% of all adult Americans suffer from a serious mental illness, according to a 2012 report by a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Caring for such distressed inmates is costly. National Alliance on Mental Illness, one of the leading advocacy research groups, estimates that prisoners with mental illness cost the nation $9 billion annually. Other challenges are evident. In Los Angeles, for example, the U.S. Department of Justice found in 1997 that mentally ill inmates were abused and endured conditions that violated their federal civil rights.

Earlier this month the DOJ sent a letter to L.A. officials saying that despite some apparent progress, there is "a growing number" of mentally ill inmates housed in general population quarters at Men's Central Jail, as well as a "recent increase in suicides." Assistant Los Angeles County Sheriff Terri McDonald said the growing population of mentally ill inmates "certainly strains the system." She said they would continue to work with DOJ officials "and we welcome their thoughts."

Some facilities have attempted to cope by hiring psychiatric staff and retraining prison officers. Few, however, claim to be adequately equipped to handle some of the nation's most mentally frail. A seeming revolving door compounds the problem: Upon their release, the mentally ill tend to find scant resources and often quickly fall back into the system, says Mr. Gonzalez.

Even in some areas that have seen reductions in the general inmate population, the mentally ill constitute a growing share of correctional space. For example, New York City's total prison population has fallen to 11,500, down from 13,576 in 2005. Yet the number of mentally ill prisoners has risen, to 4,300 from 3,319, says Dora Schriro, commissioner of corrections for the city. That means the city's percentage of mentally ill prisoners grew from 24% to 37%.

The picture echoes the past. Two centuries ago, reformers were disturbed to find large numbers of the mentally ill in jails, paving the way for the development of state-run institutions. In the 1950s and 1960s, complaints about abuses, advances in medication and a push to give the patients more independence led to another change, this time toward community settings. The weaknesses of that concept—a lack of facilities, barriers created by privacy laws and tightened local and state funding—has brought the picture full circle.

"Society was horrified to warehouse people in state hospitals, but we have no problem with warehousing them in jails and prisons," says Thomas Dart, sheriff of Cook County.

September 27, 2013 at 10:43 AM | Permalink


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Just everywhere, about a third of jail and prison beds are filled straight out state hospital grade patients. These are deteriorated schizophrenics, brain damaged alcoholics. Some were noisy and disruptive on a bus, arrested, and no one is putting up the $10 bail they need, because everyone is better off with them in there.

Criminals are super snobby, and strongly object the placement of such individuals in their neighborhood in prison. Insane lawyers have forced state hospitals and other long term facilities to go "restraint free." Prisons luckily can still TASER them, tie them to beds, and better control them than health facilities.

The pro-criminal biased lawyer will never allow a discussion of the great benefits such incarceration imparts to the families, future violence victims of these people, and the benefits to real estate values, and our economy in general, and to the properly treated mental patiennt himself. Again, outrageous lying lawyer propaganda by omission.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 27, 2013 11:59:56 PM

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