Volume 54

The Unintended Consequences of Deinstitutionalization

by Destiny Howell

 The intersection between the prison system and the treatment of the mentally ill in America is prominent. According to one report, more than half of all inmates in jails and prisons have some kind of mental illness. The odds of a mentally ill person being put in jail or prison rather than a hospital in 2004–2005 were 3.2 to 1. Despite housing such a sizable population of mentally ill inmates, many prisons lack adequate resources and training to address treatment for mentally ill inmates. The American criminal-justice system currently handles mentally ill offenders in a way that is both unhelpful to inmates and expensive to maintain. Though the shift away from large, state-run asylums was undertaken by the states with the health of patients in mind, it has been ultimately harmful for many mentally ill individuals and a strain on the prison system. This is piece is the first of a two-part series exploring deinstitutionalization in America. This piece focuses on the history of deinstitutionalization and the current state of the incarcerated mentally ill population. The forthcoming piece introduces and evaluates proposed strategies for reform. 

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