Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Struggles Mentally Ill face in Prison

The United States has incarcerated nearly 2.2 million people and those numbers are growing fast.  People who have mental disorders are being incarcerated at an alarming rate because of no funding for the state mental health system.  There are more mentally ill in prisons than state hospitals in the United States (Anassaril, 2007).
            Prisons were never designed to house the mentally ill.  Men and women who cannot get mental health treatment in their society are swept into the criminal justice system when they commit a crime.  Prisoners with mental illness include such disease like schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, personality disorders, psychotic illness, suicidal behaviors and major forms of depression (Human Rights, 2009).  Prison conditions are hard on the mental health because of the overcrowding, violence, lack of privacy, and isolation from family, friends and isolation from the outside world.  The prisoners are confined twenty-three to twenty-four hours a day in small cells with solid steel doors with little to no human contact.  The impact of these problems escalates when prisoners are dealing with mental illness.  Life in prison for prisoners with mental illness is hard.  Prisons across the country have segregated their mentally ill prisoners from the general public because they are seen as difficult or disturbing.  They are more likely to be used and victimized by other prisoners.  They are unable to follow formal and informal rules of a strict life style, and often have higher rates of rule-breaking then other prisoners (Human rights, 2009).
            The challenges that the mentally ill face in prison is the lack of treatment, limited programs, and insufficient facilities and prisons that are understaffed.  The U.S. Department of Justice found that half of the inmate population has mental health problems compared with eleven percent of the general public, but only one in three inmates receive forms of treatment (Anasseril, 2007).  Without care the mentally ill prisoners suffer painful conditions and symptoms, which over time can get worse.  It might lead to self-mutilation, suicide and lashing out on officers as well as medical staff.  The mental health professionals working in the prisons cannot meet the needs of their patients because there is not enough staff, which results in huge caseloads, and pressure from being overworked, which could also result in not giving an inmate their prescribed treatment.
            Our system has not addressed the needs of the mentally ill because we are not helping them; we are not getting the care they need.  They are housed in prisons with little help and no treatment for them to get better just worst.  Since there is not enough money for the over population of inmates its hard for prisons to get funding, treatment programs and staff to help their inmates that are suffering from mental illness.  Failure of treatment makes its hard for inmates to return to society as healthy individuals and so they stay in prison for longer periods because they are a danger to the public (American psychiatric, 2004).
            If I had the power I would change the tougher sentencing laws that resulted in the massive increase in the prison population, by having other alternatives for drug offenders and the mentally ill.  I would try opening mental hospitals that had trained and professional staff to help the inmates.  Inmates that are mentally ill would stay at the hospital instead of the prisons, which can help with over crowding.  It would not be easy because hospitals are expensive so I would try and find funding for the project.  More importantly I would get the message out to the public.  A lot of people may not know what is going on, so by educating and getting people to understand how important this is, it can help spread the awareness.
            Inmates that are mentally ill are people too; they have every right to have the same treatment and fairness as the rest of the population.  Providing access to treatment and human services will provide a better outcome then the one we have.  What do you think about this situation?

        and an article
Anasseril, Daniel. (2007). Care of the mentally ill in prisons: Challenges and solutions. Journal of the American academy of psychiatry and the law online, 35(4), 406-410



  1. Mentally ill inmates definitely have it the hardest out of the special prison populations. I recently wrote a paper on mentally ill inmates so i know how our prison system is not meeting their needs. Their is such a large percent of the prison population that have some kind of mental illness that their needs to be major changes in our system to address them. I agree with you that they should be in mental hospitals instead of prisons. However, its very difficult to find funding for that when we cant find funding for regular prisons.

  2. I agree with you that we should have special treatment programs for mentally ill inmates and also drug offenders. Prisons and jails are clearly not the proper place for them because they do not have the training for recourses to help these people. When you are in prison there is typically a two-year waiting process to get into a drug treatment program. By this time it could be too late to help them. I think rehabilitation programs are awesome to try and keep first time drug offenders out of a prison, which also helps with over crowding. However, the funding is a major issue here. To help these offenders get the proper treatment we would definitely need not only money but also more resources. Hopefully, some day this system can be evaluated to provide mentally ill and drug offenders with the proper treatment.

  3. I agree that the mentally ill do not get fair treatment in our prison system. What is sad it that many of them can't even comprehend that they broke the law, or because they aren't getting correct treatment to begin with, actions they cannot control causes them to break the law and wind up in prison. Prison is no place for the mentally ill. As you mentioned they are more at risk for abuse from the general populaton because of their illness. People do not benefit from a prison atmosphere, and those that are mentally ill often need a stimulating atmosphere in order to thrive, and prisons are anything but. As with everything in this country there is a serious lack of funding for the type of facilities that need to be built for the mentally ill. Sadly it always comes back to money, and the lack of awareness.

  4. I completely agree that we need to find better ways of treating our mentally ill. Throwing them in prison, for something they do not even know is wrong, is so immoral. Keeping them locked up and away from all civilization only makes matters worse for them. We definitely need to find different programs, not incarceration. These individuals clearly need more help and guidance and for our societies to come together and find ways of doing this should not be that hard. Finding the money for mental hospitals is a struggle, but for all the money we are spending on having them incarcerated, we could definitely use that money toward helping them and guiding them, rather just throwing them away and worsening them.

  5. I completely agree that we should be putting the mentally ill in hospitals or treatment center, not prison or jail. I doubt it will ever happen with budgets being cut more and more, but I think that proper treatment for the mentally ill would probably result in lower costs in the long run. With proper treatment and/or medication many, if not most, of these people could be productive members of society and would hopefully never need to be hospitalized again. This would result in costs being lower in the end. I think that the same is true when it comes to treatment programs in prisons and jails. If more evidence-based programs were used it would cost more up front, but probably less in the long run because fewer people would be returning to prisons and jails.