Volume 54
Issue 0
Spring '17

Improving Conditions for Mentally Ill Individuals in the Criminal Justice System

Written By: Destiny Howell

Abstract

 Deinstitutionalization, the process of moving the mentally ill out of large state-run institutions, was predicated in part on the assumption that individuals would be able to utilize community-based health care to meet their needs. Despite this belief, adequate funding for these resources never materialized, leading to the unprecedented incarceration of the mentally ill. This results from minor offenses that are a frequent product of various mental illnesses. Because of deinstitutionalization, America’s prisons and jails have become the default mental-health facilities in the country, with ten times the amount of mentally ill individuals as hospitals. Yet, as Toni Carter, a commissioner in Ramsey County, Minnesota said, “Jail is jail;” prisons and jails were not built to house and care for the country’s mentally ill, and when mentally ill prisoners are released, their conditions have worsened. Though a comprehensive solution to this pervasive problem will not be quick or inexpensive, the system needs reform. There are several possible routes for reform. One option is to promote diversion programs that reduce the number of those incarcerated and mentally ill. Another option is to promote programs designed to provide adequate levels of care and continuing support to the mentally ill already in the penal system to reduce recidivism rates. Both options have shown promise in states where they are used. However, until more states establish diversion programs with properly-equipped facilities, the most viable option is to make sure those already in the penal system are receiving proper care. 

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