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The Lake News Online
  • Lake view: Warehousing the mentally ill in American prisons

  • American jails and prisons have become the new dumping ground for the warehousing of the mentally ill. Today more Americans receive mental health treatment in prisons than in hospitals nationwide.

    The breakdown of the problem is shocking.
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  •  American jails and prisons have become the new dumping ground for the warehousing of the mentally ill. Today more Americans receive mental health treatment in prisons than in hospitals nationwide.
    The breakdown of the problem is shocking.
    It is estimated that 55% of males incarcerated have mental health issues and it gets even worse with 74% of women behind bars being diagnosed as mentally ill.
     Over the last 40 years, state hospital beds for the mentally ill have gone from 339 to 29 per 100,000 folks. According to a PBS report, in 1998 there were approximately 284,000 people in America's jails and prisons suffering with some form of mental illness.
    That number increased to approximately 300,000 mentally ill folks being held in prisons alone in 2003. 
    It is estimated by some health organizations that today's jails and prisons may be holding, (and are currently) supervising  paroled prisoners numbering as many as 1.3 million with some form of mental illness.
     Jails and prisons across the country are struggling with the overwhelming influx of mentally ill men and women being dumped by society on the American justice system according to penal expert Dr. Fellner PhD. American society has decided that prisons and punishment for behavior motivated by delusions or hallucinations manifested by mental illness is the best solution for the handling of these sick people.
    Of course jails and prisons were never intended to be nor prepared to serve as mental hospitals. But none of that seems to matter as this tragic trend continues year-after-year unabated with no real solution in sight.
     Once behind bars, the lot for mentally ill patients becomes a complete nightmare.
    If they are not immediately screened by health professionals and discovered to be suffering from mental illness, they are released unprotected into the general population. Once in general population they are often robbed, beating, abused both sexually and physically and sometimes killed. Prisoners suffering from mental illness very often have difficulty adhering to the jail's or prison's rules and structure.
    Their failure to comply with the rules is often perceived by prison staff as intentional refusal to submit and willful disruptive behavior on the part of the individual. Of course it is nothing of the kind and most often the mentally ill prisoner has no control over his or her behavior.
     Even if the mentally ill prisoner is properly screened, their situation is torture behind bars. Once discovered to be suffering from mental illness, these prisoners are immediately locked down in segregation 23 hours a day. Segregation is the only option for these poor unfortunates since the prison is responsible for the mentally ill prisoner's safety as well as that of the other prisoners and staff.  
    Page 2 of 2 - The jails and prisons use segregation as their only management tool in, "Helping" the mentally ill behind bars.
    I say that this nation can and should do better for the mentally ill. This system is barbaric, wicked and wrong. I say before fixing the immigration problem or tax codes, this problem should be addressed by lawmakers and a solution found to end this unacceptable, ongoing, misery.
     
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