A common belief among many people is that incarceration is a justifiable punishment for many crimes. The question at hand is, does a person who has committed a crime who is mentally ill get the proper treatment and care while in prison and upon their release from prison or jail? These people who have been entered into the criminal justice system are sometimes lost souls who never get much more thought once sentencing is done. Some believe that these mentally ill criminals do their time and are rehabilitated and cured by the time their time is served. This couldn't be farther from the truth.
There are over three hundred fifty thousand inmates in America’s prisons and jails. The growing number of inmates found in the jails and prisons today are a direct effect of the Government closing down many of the State run hospitals that began in the 1980’s. With the lack of resources many of these patients because of their mental illness, began to be arrested for petty crimes. The Bureau of Justice Statistics of the US Department of Justice reported in the year 2000, nearly 13% of inmates were found to have a mental or emotional condition and received some type of medical treatment or intervention while incarcerated. 17 New Jersey jails were surveyed to find out what type of care, if any care was done for inmates upon release from jail. Spokespersons at 10 of the 17 jails reported that they provide care after release for less than 10% of the mentally ill population in their jails. With that said, most of the mentally ill prisoners are released back into our communities no better off than the day they stepped foot through the prison doors.
Many in the Criminal Justice field agree that the system has failed these unfortunate souls; that prison was never intended to be a state hospital or treatment center, but sadly that is what they have become. Sheriff Greg Hamilton of Travis County in Austin Texas is quoted stating “It seems that we have criminalized being mentally ill” Hamilton states that the lack of space in the hospitals has turned the jail into a default treatment center. The jails prisons just do not have the money, resources, and staff to handle the growing population. Doctors argue that even putting someone who has a slight mental illness such as depression, in a regular jail they only get worse, being locked up for twenty two to twenty three hours a day; only makes the prisoners metal state worse.
Researchers believe that jail diversion options such as drug court, mental health courts, and assignments to mental health probation; will help keep the mentally ill out of the general prison population, give them the proper health care they need and deserve all while protecting the people in our communities. Psychiatric programs to help the mentally ill enter back into the community are a necessity to help keep them from returning to jail or prison. Training police officers to be able to recognize the mentally ill is key to keeping them out of jail and into the emergency room or psychiatric center where they need to be to get the proper treatment for their behavior.