A few years ago, my husband stumbled upon a book written by a journalist father of a young man with bipolar disorder. The young man (a good kid) committed a crime during the midst of a manic episode and was arrested for the crime. As some people with bipolar mania experience, the young man didn’t even remember committing the crime. The father fought hard to get his son out of prison, and the experience inspired him to investigate the serious issue of the mentally ill in U.S. prisons and jails.
The father I am referring to is Pete Earley, author of the book Crazy: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness, which I consider a must read for everyone in the United States. Pete Earley also maintains a website and blog. Below is an excerpt from one of his blog posts on the subject topic, followed by a link to the full post.
Mental Health Reform: An Introduction
“Police officers have increasingly become the first responders when a citizen is in the midst of a psychiatric crisis. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), up to 40% of adults who experience serious mental illness in their lifetime will come into contact with the police and the criminal justice system at some point in their lives. (1) The vast majority of these individuals will be charged with minor misdemeanor and low-level felony offenses that are a direct result of their psychiatric illnesses – the most common being trespassing or disorderly conduct.
Despite the minor nature of these crimes, encounters between persons with mental illness and the police can escalate, sometimes with tragic consequences. Nearly half of all fatal shootings by law enforcement locally and nationally involve persons with mental illnesses.
Jails and prisons have become the largest psychiatric facilities in our nation. There are nearly fourteen times as many people with mental illnesses in jails and prisons in the United States as there are in all state psychiatric hospitals combined. Each year, roughly 2.2 million people experiencing serious mental illnesses are arrested and booked into jails nationwide. Jails are not designed or adequately equipped and staffed to provide the treatment those individuals need.
On any given day, 500,000 people with mental illnesses are incarcerated in jails and prisons across the United States, and 850,000 people with mental illnesses are on probation or parole in the community. (1b)
Nationally, persons with mental illnesses remain incarcerated four to eight times longer than those without mental illnesses for the exact same charge and at a cost of up to seven times higher, making their incarceration a financial burden for taxpayers, as well as, a social/health/justice issue. (2)
The importance of appropriate responses to helping individuals in mental health crises and to diverting individuals who might be arrested into treatment programs cannot be overstated…
For the remainder of Pete Earley’s post visit http://www.peteearley.com/2015/08/28/helpful-recommendations-why-jails-and-prisons-shouldnt-be-asylums/