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October 22, 2003

300,000 Mentally Ill in US Jails

As many as one in five of the 2.1 million Americans in jail are seriously mentally ill, according to a new study by Human Rights Watch. (Full report here).

That is a crime against humanity-- 300,000 people who need treatment, not jail.

Hardly surprising when there are fewer than 80,000 people in mental hospitals and those numbers continue to fall.

This number is no surprise to me-- I have a close family member who is schizophrenic, often on the streets, jailed quite often for short periods for minor crimes, usually trespass and then resisting arrest, while getting no real help when he occasionally ends up in a hospital.

But he's lucky-- he's avoided serious prison time.

For the mentally ill convicted, it no doubt multiplies the horrors inside their own heads.

Medical care for mentally ill inmates is often almost nonexistent, the study says.

And unsurprisingly, they have trouble with prison discipline:

mentally ill inmates who cannot control their behavior are often, and disproportionately, placed in solitary confinement, the study found.

Solitary confinement is particularly difficult for mentally ill inmates because there is even more limited medical care there, and the isolation and idleness can be psychologically destructive, the report says.

So you have 300,000 mentally ill people -- and I repeat the number to keep that in mind -- untreated and made worse by essentially additional mental torture.

This is a sick, twisted system of "criminal justice" on so many dimensions, with prisons filled with non-violent offenders, innocent people convicted on bad evidence, and hundreds of thousands of mentally ill people who need treatment, not punishment.

Posted by Nathan at October 22, 2003 01:23 AM