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Criminalizing Mental Illness

Are America’s prisons the new mental hospitals?

America’s Shameful Past

By 2012: there were 10X as many mentally ill individuals in jail or prison than in mental hospitals

• Jailed: 365,000
• Hospitals: 35,000

16: percentage of males in prison now, suffer from some form of severe mental illness

That’s up from:
6.4: the percentage of males in prison with mental illness in 1983

40: percentage of individuals with serious mental illnesses have been in jail or prison at some time in their lives

Nowhere Else to Put Them?

In 1955 there was one psychiatric bed for every 300 Americans.
In 2005 there was one psychiatric bed for every 3,000 Americans

Over 1 in 3 State prisoners,
1 in 4 Federal prisoners, and
1 in 6 jail inmates who had a mental health problem had received treatment since admission

Prisons are bad for mental health; here’s why:
• overcrowding
• violence,
• solitude/lack of privacy
• no meaningful activity
• isolation
• insecurity about the future
• inadequate health services
• high incidence of suicide

Suicide, the leading cause of local jail inmate deaths, remained at about the same level in 2010 (305 suicides) as in 2009 (304), although the number has trended upward slightly since 2006

What to do for those in prison?
• Divert people towards the mental health system
• Access to mental health care
• Access to psychiatric wards of general hospitals
• Psychotropic medication
• Better trained staff
• Provide information/education to prisoners and their families on mental health issues
• Better prison management
• Protect their human rights

These organizations help prisoners with mental issues:

Bureau of Justice Assistance

Human Rights Defense Center

Mind Freedom

Prison Reform Trust

Treatment Advocacy Center


Bureau of Justice Statistics