Pick a day, any day, and you will find that about 70,000 inmates in U.S prisons are psychotic. Somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000 inmates are schizophrenic, bi polar or suffering from major depression. "Prisons hold three times more people with mental illness than do psychiatric hospitals.", stated a 2003 report by Human Rights Watch.
Closed for three years due to lack of funds, the Mentally Ill Offender Crime Reduction grant program, (MIOCR), was resuscitated this year. Intense pressure brought to bear by the California State Sheriff's' Association pushed though legislation that will result in more than $45 million in statewide grants.
"We are literally drowning in patients, running around trying to put our fingers in the bursting dikes, while hundreds of men continue to deteriorate psychiatrically before our eyes into serious psychoses...The crisis stems from changes in the mental health laws allowing more mentally sick patients to be shifted away from the mental health department into the department of corrections..."
An unnamed California prison psychiatrist (www.psychlaws.org)
The revived program, (MIOCR), will attempt to weed out the mentally ill from the ever growing prison population. To be eligible for the program, inmates will first be screened. Any inmates with a history of violent felonies or or deemed to be dangerous to the public will be denied access to the program.
"When Timothy Williams arrived in late 1997 at the Alexandria, Virginia, Adult Detention Center, he'd just come off a spree of nine burglaries, mostly stealing home electronics to support his crack habit. The thirty-eight year old is dually cursed with drug addition and paranoid schizophrenia, and during his last term in a Virginia penitentiary had tried to commit suicide by cutting his arms 200 times with a razor. He was off his anti-psychotic medication"
"When I'm on medication, he says, "I'm a nice guy to be with. When I'm off it, I'm a damm devil."
After their initial screening, inmates will be referred to qualified mental health practitioners for assessment. That assessment must diagnose them with a primary mental illness and a secondary substance abuse issue.
Fortunately, this time Williams was jailed at the AADC, a federal demonstration project for treating the mentally ill in jail. He said counselors persuaded him to get back on his anti-psychotic medication. "If they hadn't come to me, I'd have been dead now by suicide," says Williams
After the inmate completes his assessment, he agrees to plead guilty and is sentenced to probation, part of which is psychiatric treatment, either long or short term. In other words, the mentally unstable inmate transitions from prisoner to patient.
It's definitely a "win, win" situation. It helps people get better and according to a Rand Corp study, released on March 1, 2007, "the increased costs of treating the mentally ill people who were criminally charged was offset by the decrease in jail costs." John B. Engberg, an economist for Rand and one of the study's authors, said that over a two year period, the savings for just the 200 people studied resulted in a savings of about $3.6 million.
According to Sheriff Gary Penrod, of San Bernardino county, "In California's 125 county jails alone, over 221,000 jail inmates were released back to our communities each year before serving all their sentenced time in jail. This problem could be lessened substantially if all mentally ill offenders were treated rather than jailed". That's a pretty strong statement. Then let's throw in the fact that U.S. District Judge Dean D. Pregerson has ordered California to present a plan to slash it's overcrowded prison population by 70,000 inmates by mid May, or he would release thousands of prisoners.
Humm? What's a person to do? Release the rapist, child molester who stuck a shot gun in Louie the Liquor store owner's face...or...Maybe...Hey, why not get the jailed mentally ill guy some "real time" help? You know the guy I am talking about, the low income nut job with no money, friends, or family that will even think about bailing him out. Yeah, that guy, the one that doesn't even know he's sick and subsequently has no understanding why, in the world, he would need medication. The one the cops have to arrest because there is no where to take them.
www.psychlaws.org Fact Sheet, "Criminalization of Americans with Severe Mental Illnesses," author unknown.
"New Bedlam: Jails--not Psychiatric Hospitals--Now Care for the Indigent Mentally Ill," by Spencer P.M. Harrington.
www.post-gazette.com "Alternatives to jail touted for mentally ill offenders," by Ann Belser, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
California Sheriff Magazine, "Local Lockup Travesty: The mentally Ill Do Not Belong in Jail."
www.pbs.org Frontline: "The Jailed and Imprisioned Mentally Ill."
VenturaCountyStar, "Removing mentally ill from jail resumes," by Stephanie Hoops and "Prison plan will flood jails, sheriff warns supervisors," by Tamera Koehler.
www.psychiatrictimes.com "Guilty of Mental Illness", by William Kanapaux,