Yesterday, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) issued a compilation of staggering statistics on the criminalization of people with mental illness in the United States. As NAMI points out, “Over the past 20 years, state spending on correctional systems has increased 350 percent from $10 billion to $45 billion,” while the same states have cut funding to mental health treatment. The predictable outcome is that millions of people with mental illness now languish in the nation’s prison’s and jails. Thousands of these people end up in solitary confinement, as their untreated mental illnesses manifest in ways that lead to disciplinary segregation. Here are the stats from NAMI:
- About two million people with serious mental illness are booked into local jails each year. About 30 percent of female and 15 percent of male inmates in local jails have serious mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. The majority of arrests are for non-violent offenses such as disturbing public order or property offenses. Many have been homeless.
- Seventy percent of youth in the juvenile justice system also experience mental health disorders, with 20 percent experiencing disorders so severe that their ability to function is significantly impaired.
- In prisons, almost 25 percent of inmates live with serious mental illness, but their conditions are often under-treated—or not treated at all. Harsh conditions, including isolation and noise, can “push them over the edge” into acute psychosis. An estimated 70,000 prisoners suffer from psychosis on any given day.
- Fifty percent of people with mental illness who have previously been in prison are rearrested and returned to prison not because they have committed new offenses, but because they have been able to comply with conditions of probation or parole—often because of mental illness.
- In prison, people with mental illness often lose access to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security benefits. Even when benefits can be restored upon release, reapplying can be time-consuming and complex. Without case management and community assistance, individuals with mental illness are at risk of requiring costly emergency medical services or ending up back in prison.
- Based on a comparison of two programs in Illinois and New York, between approximately $20,000 and $40,000 per persons can be saved by providing the mental health care than putting a person in jail.
NAMI has an excellent Fact Sheet on the subject, including alternatives to criminalizing mental illness (which just happen to save a lot of money, as well as being more humane). NAMI also recommends the following books and reports:
Crazy: A Father’s Search through America’s Mental Health Madness by Pete Earley
Ill-Equipped: U.S. Prisons and Offender with Mental Illness, Human Rights Watch.
H/T to the outstanding Prison Culture blog for alerting us to this information.