The Nation’s Largest Mental Health Provider Is the Corrections System by President Joseph M. Jason of NAMI BA
Our NAMI organization needs to be a better job in advocating for change for the mentally ill who are in jails and prisons. There are more people with mental illness in Illinois’ prisons and jails than in all the residential mental health facilities public and private combined. In fact, more than 50% of prison inmates in the US have symptoms of serious mental illness. What it means is that the mental healthcare is failing-failing long before people enter the criminal justice system and failing long after they leave it-individuals are sentenced to lives without hope and enormous costs are shifted on to our police, courts, jails and prisons at all lives.
In 1970, there were 400,000 people in the State Psychiatric Hospitals in the United States. Today, there are less than 50,000. In the same time, the United States now incarcerates eight times as many people in prisons as they did in 1970. There are 2.3 million people in custody on any given day in the United States or 1 in 100 adults.
In 1970 only 4% of people institutionalized with a mental illness were in prison. Today that figure is over 70%.
States are failing to invest in providing adequate mental healthcare. Prisons are never the optimal place for mental health treatment. NAMI believes in treatment instead of incarceration for people with mental illness according to our platform. Most persons with a mental illness need housing and support services and not jail. However this message is not being conveyed adequately to our members and representatives.
Individuals with serious brain disorders are frequently placed in solitary confinement and to govern the necessary medication to control l their symptoms.
“If societies are judged by how they treat their most disabled members. Our society will be judged harshly indeed,” said E. Fuller Torrey M.D., a research psychiatrist and Treatment Advocacy Founder.
The present situation, whereby individuals with serious mental illnesses are being put into jails and prisons rather than into hospitals, is a disgrace to American medicine and to common decency and fairness.”
One ray of hope is now in Baltimore and perhaps this following initiative can be followed in Illinois.
Baltimore has a new initiative called the Mental Health Case Management Docket. It is aimed at the repeat offenders who commit crimes as a result of having a serious mental illness rather than from criminal intent. People who suffer from lifelong psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or clinical depression are often incapable of taking responsibility for their actions. Unless they get treatment that addresses their underlying disorder, their behavior is unlikely to change and they may remain a danger to themselves and others, regardless of the sentence they receive.
The three-year pilot project is expected to serve about 30 people a year at an annual cost of about $120,000. That is not cheap, but officials hope it will pay off over the long run by reducing the cost of trials and incarceration in the criminal justice system and lower arrest rates among the program’s participants.
This is a big step forward for the criminal justice system, because the illnesses in question can be devastating to people who suffer from them. Schizophrenia is a psychotic disorder that makes its victims prey to terrifying visual and auditory hallucinations, jumbled thoughts and persistent delusions that distort their perception of reality. People who suffer from bipolar disorder are subject to wild emotional swings, from elevated moods of grandiosity and invincibility to feelings of unbearable sadness, hopelessness and despair. Major depression isn’t just feeling “blue” but a life-threatening, chronic condition that can drive people to neglect themselves and their responsibilities to others or even push them to suicide. In all three cases, even if people are capable of distinguishing right from wrong, they may be unable to act on that knowledge.