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Friday, October 7, 2022

Have American jails become the inferior replacement for mental hospitals?

Matthew Rozsa
Originally posted 5 SEPT 22

Here is an excerpt:

"We've known for some time that this country's chief response to serious mental illness is incarceration, a fact that stands out because prisons are so clearly unsuited to treating mental illness," Wanda Bertram, Communications Strategist at Prison Policy Initiative, told Salon by email. "Our organization recently found that even though 43% of people in state prisons have been diagnosed with a mental disorder, only 26% have received some form of mental health treatment, and only 6% are currently receiving treatment."

Bertram added, "The readiness with which our justice system fast-tracks people with mental illnesses into prison, despite knowing that jail and prison settings won't make that person any better, speaks volumes about the system's ability to deliver justice."

Dr. Craig Haney, a psychologist who has studied the psychological effects of incarceration for decades and a psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, offered some insight into why America tends to incarcerate rather than help people with mental illnesses.

"The structural origins start with the history of two simultaneous trends that began in the early 1970s," Haney wrote to Salon. The first was the widespread closing of publicly-funded mental hospitals "in part on the promise that they would be replaced by more humane community-based treatment, a promise that was never kept" and the second was "the beginning of a decades-long 'tough-on-crime' era in which politicians competed with each other on who could criminalize the most things and impose the longest sentences. So we shrunk our mental health system and increased the size of our prison system."

Bertram also attributed the trend to imprison people who are mentally ill to ideological choices.

"I think the major problem is an ideology that says that if you have some kind of illness, including mental illness, you ought to be the primary person responsible for your own care," Bertram explained. "That's the ideology that props up our healthcare system, where sick people bear extraordinary costs and crushing debts. And it keeps us from asking why mental health services like therapy, psychiatry, and long-term care are not only expensive, but difficult to access." Pointing out that their report revealed roughly half of people in state prisons lacked any kind of health insurance prior to their arrest, Bertram concluded that "we continue to send people with mental disorders to prison, because there seems to be nowhere else for them to go."