Prison vs. mental health institutions
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prison vs mental health institutions

This past April, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton discussed a number of harsh issues that currently plague the United States. She particularly highlighted a connection between prisons and mental health care. Beginning in the 1960s and 1970s, a calculated migration of people suffering from mental illness took place due to the tarnished reputation of long-stay psychiatric facilities. While the initial plan was to bring patients into the care of more localized treatment centers that could be better monitored, political promises broke down on the way to legislation. As a result, psychiatric facilities were phased out and numerous mentally ill patients were instead admitted into the prisons and jails of America.

As part of her speech on criminal justice reform at Columbia University, Clinton stated, “…the promise of de-institutionalizing those in mental health facilities was supposed to be followed by the creation of community-based treatment centers. Well, we got half of that equation—but not the other half. Our prisons and our jails are now our mental health institutions.”

Regardless of political preference, the facts reign true. In a report distributed by the Treatment Advocacy Center, the national jail and prison systems hold approximately 356,000 inmates who have severe mental disorders, which is more than 10 times higher than state hospitals. The situation is even more drastic than the data details, as some overcrowded prisons transfer inmates to private facilities, which exclude them from state-level survey totals.

Currently, the nation lacks a serious amount of mental health treatment services. There are simply not enough mental health professionals readily available to assist those afflicted due to required referrals and finances. As a result, primary care doctors and other general physicians are bombarded by a large amount of patients. To ensure that the maximum amount of these patients and their respective problems are addressed, typical patient care has become rapid and limited to a certain degree. The number of underserved mental patients continues to grow each day, allowing incapacitating symptoms to limit normal functioning.

Especially when financial opportunities are limited, these affected individuals tend to become more desperate for resources in order to survive on a daily basis. Eventually, this kind of behavior can lead to committing crimes. When mentally afflicted individuals are arrested, the link between incarceration and mental illness is established and most likely begins a vicious cycle due to the current system in place.

As Clinton remarks in her speech, prisons and jails are obviously not satisfactory settings to administer quality mental health care. Most observations show that mental conditions usually become worse during incarceration. Instead of addressing one’s afflicted issues head-on, these individuals are often victimized by other inmates without protection or neglected in solitary confinement. As a result, most of those who are mentally ill frequently attempt and successfully commit suicide while incarcerated.

Overall, many changes can be made to improve the treatment of the mentally ill. Besides investing large amounts of time into improving mental health care systems, smaller fixes can also be made in how afflicted people are treated while behind bars. Although each location will have its own set of challenges, prisons and jails need to uphold a similar responsibility in providing a host of mental health care options as they do with medical care options. In addition, various jail diversion and crisis intervention teams have shown to be quite effective at preventing the unneeded imprisonment of people with mental disorders and should be expanded to a national level.

If individuals with mental illnesses are sent to a prison or jail, they should be screened for their conditions in order to reduce violent altercations and other traumatic incidents. Once they are released from these institutions, outpatient care should continue for former inmates in order to create a smoother transition into society once again. Coupled with psychiatric check-ups, these at-risk populations will get a much more comprehensive level of treatment that is severely lacking at this time.

Sovereign Health of California offers a number of treatment programs designed to aid afflicted people on multiple levels. Through detailed dual diagnosis screenings, all contributing factors to mental disorders are assessed. Treatment is also evidence-based and holistic, so clients can expect to recover their bodies and minds in the purest fashion. If you or someone you know is afflicted with mental problems that could lead to incarceration, contact Sovereign Health of California online or call (866) 819-0427 to get treatment that works.

Written by Lee Yates, Sovereign Health Group writer

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