Why Jails And Prisons Shouldn’t Be Mental Asylums

prison cells

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/


31 thoughts on “Why Jails And Prisons Shouldn’t Be Mental Asylums

  1. Sydney Hartle September 21, 2017 / 2:19 am

    This is so sad. We definitely need better support systems for people with mental illness, because prisons absolutely shouldn’t be a bucket for catching the people who slip through the cracks. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Liked by 3 people

    • updownflight September 21, 2017 / 11:21 am

      Definitely, but a lot of planning needs to be done to stop this on the federal and state levels.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Melissa A. September 21, 2017 / 11:01 am

    The statistics posted are appalling. It’s strange because just yesterday, I watched a documentary on England’s largest mental institution for male criminals. Most of them had committed horrendous crimes, which were done during a time of mental illness crisis. Some couldn’t remember what they’d done. Some choose not to remember; which affects their healing & recovery. But it was nice to see a place other than prison for these men to go to. It’s really very sad. So many mentally ill people in this world, and not enough facilities to help them. 😥

    Liked by 3 people

    • updownflight September 21, 2017 / 11:57 am

      It is so sad!

      In the past, the U.S. did have many more mental health institutions that accommodated the criminally insane, or just more people with mental health issues who now end up in jails, when they shouldn’t. They were far from ideal places so the government felt they were doing good by closing many down. However, they never (to this day) prepared sufficiently for the deinstitutionalization. It is horrible how the government knows about this problem of mentally ill in jails, but they do little or nothing. Only a few places take positive actions on their own.

      Many prisons are privatized and the current government wants more privatized. They want less and less say in what happens inside these horrible places.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Melissa A. September 21, 2017 / 12:53 pm

        Privatize prisons? That’s awful. I didn’t know this. Can you imagine the abuse that goes on in a privately owned jail? My God.

        We used to have a large in-patient mental hospital downtown. It ran successfully for decades. I knew one girl who admitted herself just for stress. She stayed for two weeks, went to counseling, made crafts, basically de-stressed. She said it helped her immensely and probably kept her from exploding on her family.

        Well, the city closed that hospital for lack of federal funding about 15 years ago. Now, there’s only out-patient therapy available for the mentally ill. Most of the homeless in our city probably have some type of mental illness. I see them talking to themselves or singing or shouting at no one in particular on street corners all over. In raggedy clothing and unkept. It’s sad and depressing.

        I wish we could get a universal health care system like Canada. I think it would benefit a lot of people.

        Liked by 2 people

      • updownflight September 21, 2017 / 1:15 pm

        I wish we had universal healthcare, too. I don’t know of anyone who has universal healthcare who would prefer what we have in the U.S.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Sharon2011 September 22, 2017 / 3:11 am

    This just beaks my heart. The mentally ill are ignored. Imagine how much better this world would be, we weren’t afraid to address it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • updownflight September 22, 2017 / 7:12 am

      I do hope things change for the better, too. Thanks for reading, Sharon2011!


  4. marandarussell September 26, 2017 / 1:22 am

    I often think that there is a horrid lack of long term care for the mentally ill, and whether the sufferers end up in prison or homeless (which seem to be the two most likely scenarios for extreme mental illness), they still aren’t even close to getting the help and treatment they need. It seems like we did away with the whole “putting people in asylums/mental hospitals” and act like it is a good thing, but to me it really isn’t when they just end up in worse places.

    Liked by 2 people

    • updownflight September 26, 2017 / 10:48 am

      I definitely agree! Though they meant well with deinstitutionalization, they planned very poorly for it. Too many years have passed, and still there are no good replacements for the old institutions.

      Liked by 1 person

    • updownflight September 27, 2017 / 2:25 am

      Indeed it is! I hope to get more involved in improving their lives in the near future. My life could be improved, too, but my situation if far better than those featured in this post.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. jacquelineobyikocha October 17, 2017 / 6:10 am

    …and most times these officers/persons are not trained to handle mentally ill/psychiatric citizens.Just last year, I remember reading of a young fellow who wound up dead in the police cell when he was arrested for having a manic episode. A lot needs to be done.

    Liked by 1 person

    • updownflight October 17, 2017 / 12:01 pm

      It’s a very sad true fact. I read of mentally ill sometimes being shot when holding weapons meant to kill themselves and not the police.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Coping October 18, 2017 / 1:00 pm

    I LOVED this blog post more than you’ll ever know. Two years ago to the day I was in jail. What I saw there was indescribable. I’ll keep it as short as I can. My psychiatrist gave me a nice Rx of Clonazapams and he said you’ll be asleep for most of it because he knew that when I got my DUI I was in the midst of a bipolar mania. His 3 page letter to the court made absolutely no difference to the judge. He even said I don’t care what her story is she’s a drunk driver and the case was closed with me being taken to a penitentiary 4 hours from where I live, was given no phone call and I had no money to get back home and obviously no license. When I did return that Friday night to serve my never ending punishment I was told to hand over all medication I would need for my stay. I should have heard ALLIN 3 times per day to be let out to see the nurse at the “med hut”. I was called out approximately 5 times in 30 days and never once was I given my Clonazapams. Not once. I asked the nurse why and she said there was nothing on my chart indicating that I brought any into the jail.

    There was one lady in particular that I would see every time I was called down. She was clearly mentally challenged and the guards were making fun of her every single time, even having the audacity to look to me for some sort of reaction or perhaps amusement to their taunts to this poor woman. They made fun of her size every time. I looked at the guards with resting bitch face and went back to my cell. When it was finally my time to leave I asked the guards if I could have the remainder of my meds that I brought in with me, in the process stating I never once received even one dose of my Clonazapams. They all looked at each other and said Clonazapams? You never brought in any Clonazapams. As I was at their mercy (and still am at the mercy of others for the rest of my time on earth) I didn’t say anything. But those guards took 90 Clonazapams for themselves and completely denied it. Who else was denied their meds? Who was given the wrong meds? Who was just given “chemical restraint” meds and had no idea? Almost 50% of the ladies in there were mentally ill and it was absolutely shocking to see how they were treated and how they were literally bullied by the guards. This is a very primitive, rudimentary and abusive place to warehouse the mentally ill. These people committed crimes I’m sure due to a mental health issue at the time and sticking them in a hell hole either under, over or not medicated at all. Does society think this will teach them (including me) a LESSON? The recidivism rate is so high because I bet most ladies didn’t even know why they were in there. Not to mention that the criminal justice system boxes the convicted into a lifetime of no opportunities, no hope, no health care access and worst of all no pride. It’s a humiliating thing to endure and I can assure you that it doesn’t end when you get out either.

    Liked by 2 people

    • updownflight October 18, 2017 / 4:03 pm

      Coping, I so appreciate your sharing your story since though I know what a horrible tragedy it is for the mentally ill in prisons, I have never experienced it myself first hand. Your share is so important in showing others that this is such a terrible reality.

      I can’t understand why the imprisonment of the mentally ill continues. Do you think the number of private prisons is part of the problem? I know the current government is pushing for more private prisons. The inhumanity of the people that work in such places is mindboggling.

      I know that organizations like NAMI try to advocate for better life conditions for he mentally ill, but it’s obviously far from enough.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Coping October 20, 2017 / 9:39 pm

        Updownflight thank you so much for saying that about my post. I hemmed and hawed over whether it was too raw but I am really pleased with knowing that my little story may help someone else. As the privatization fund prisons I’ll be honest with you I had no idea that this was even happening. I live in Canada where the Government controls EVERYTHING, cigarettes, alcohol, prescription drugs breathing to name a few. I n my humble opinion I truly feel and believe with all my heart that this is a part of history that will become the Biblical version of the 2000’s. Where I do not belong, where I cannot speak this language of hatred and evil and I am versed in the WHY. I want to know the story and history of everything and everyone so as to stop the selfish people who are so cruel and disgustingly vain they’d kill their parents for a pair of yeezy’s. I see the money spent on destroying a family’s life and future that literally cannot be repaired over the law which is a victimless, damage free DUI, under the auspices that you MAY hit someone. I can’t tell you what that law has done to me snd the intellectual challenge of the world and the consequences of uneducated children. I am very perplexed by how many people have been amputated literally on the same way that a person can run a stop sign, text, speeding, all laws that may or might’ve ended with a new criminal record for a crime that was possible just like any other accident that never happened

        Liked by 3 people

      • updownflight October 20, 2017 / 10:57 pm

        Hi Coping. I’m sorry about my ignorance of how things work in Canada. It is sad to read that things there aren’t so much better (or even worse?????) than in the U.S. prison and justice systems.

        The sad thing I can say about the U.S. is that many people are perfectly fine with the way things are. In fact, some politicians and their supporting constituents think the justice system should be even harder. What baffles me about that, is that so many of those constituents consider themselves to be religious people. Where is the mercy? Where is the love? There are many people (mostly the poor and mentally ill) that have the roughest sentences. Even children!!!!!!!!!!! And then you see rich criminals whose crimes focused on screwing the poor and middle classes serving ridiculously inadequate amounts of time in jail.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Laina Eartharcher December 15, 2017 / 12:12 am

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I find this appalling, too. Very short-sighted on the part of the government, because whatever they think they’re “saving” in funds by deinstitutionalzation, they’re going to spend more on courts and prisons. I know that asylums aren’t shining stars of paradise; they’re the environment of some of the worst atrocities ever committed. But I think that with more oversight and compassion, those problems could be greatly alleviated. Prison is not the answer, and neither is privatizing them! How would a privatized prison even make money, anyway? I wonder what the incentive/motive is 😕💙

    Liked by 1 person

    • updownflight December 15, 2017 / 1:39 pm

      Like you said, I do think that in the end more money is spent jailing the mentally ill (and even other very minor law offenders). I just don’t believe they are analyzing it much at all.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Laina Eartharcher December 15, 2017 / 2:13 pm

        Yep, I totally agree 👏🏼. It’s like society is going backwards in time and level of understanding 😦

        Liked by 1 person

  8. stoner on a rollercoaster June 10, 2018 / 5:22 pm

    Reblogged this on and commented:
    this is a post by our blog friend who I have known since the beginning of my blog and I have been thoroughly enjoying her content.

    about the post…you have to read this! it’s important.

    Liked by 1 person

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