Prison Care for Mental Illness Lacking, Report Finds
Lack of access to mental health services, the closing of mental health institutions, limited funding and disorganization within prison systems have led to a high rate of mentally ill people in prison, according to a report released Wednesday by Human Rights Watch, the Chicago Tribune reports. Between 200,000 and 300,000 people with mental illnesses are incarcerated -- about one in six inmates in the U.S. prison population -- compared with fewer than 80,000 people who are receiving treatment in mental hospitals, the report found (McMahon, Chicago Tribune, 10/22). In addition, researchers found that the severity of mental illnesses among inmates has increased over the past several years; prison may exacerbate mental illnesses; mentally ill prisoners are more likely to be disciplined; and the rate of mental illness is especially high among female inmates (Butterfield, New York Times, 10/22). Many prisons lack staff or resources to provide adequate mental health treatment, according to the report. The report recommends that Congress allocate funds for community-based prison alternatives for mentally ill offenders, mental health treatment programs for inmates and transitional programs for inmates upon release.
Jamie Fellner, co-author of the report and director of Human Rights Watch's U.S. program, said, "Prisons are being asked to perform a function they are ill-equipped to perform," adding, "most people with a serious mental illness need structured days, they need therapy, they need far more than just medication. They cannot simply sit idle with their demons in a cell; it makes them worse" (Hajela, AP/Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 10/22). Dean Kueter, director of government affairs for the National Sheriffs' Association, said, "Deputies are not trained to deal with" mentally ill inmates. However, Traci Billingsley, a spokesperson for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, said, "We are able to manage (the mentally ill) at our institutions." Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) and Rep. Ted Strickland (D-Ohio) have introduced legislation (S 1194) that would provide as much as $200 million over two years to facilitate partnerships between mental health groups and correctional facilities to improve mental health treatment in prison (Chicago Tribune, 10/22). The report is available online.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.