Since 1999, the Department of Justice has released two reports dealing with the issue of mentally ill inmates. It found that fully 16 percent of the people in the nation's corrections systems were mentally ill, but that only 60 percent of those reported receiving any mental health treatment. Below are highlights of the reports, plus links to three studies that analyze the problem and suggest reforms.
• At midyear 1998, there were over a quarter of a million mentally ill people incarcerated in prison or jail. An estimated 283,800 inmates -- or 16 percent of all incarcerated individuals -- reported either a mental condition or an overnight stay in a mental hospital, and were identified as mentally ill.
• Only 60 percent of the mentally ill in state and federal prisons reported receiving mental health treatment since being incarcerated.
• About two-thirds of the inmates in state facilities who receive counseling or psychotropic medications were in facilities that didn't specialize in providing mental health services in confinement.
• Half of the mentally ill inmates in state and federal facilities reported having three or more prior sentences.
• Mentally ill state prison inmates were more than twice as likely as other inmates to report living on the street or in a shelter within the last 12 months.
• Offenders between the ages of 45 and 54 were most likely to be identified as mentally ill.
• Mentally ill inmates were more likely than others to have been convicted of a violent offense (murder, sexual assault, robbery, or assault). Thirty-three percent of federal inmates identified as mentally ill had been convicted of a violent offense, compared to 13 percent of other inmates. In state facilities, 53 percent of mentally ill inmates had been convicted of a violent offensel, compared to 46 percent of other inmates.
Sources: Bureau of Justice Statistics, "Mental Health and Treatment of Inmates and Probationers," July 1999; Bureau of Justice Statistics, "Mental Health Treatment in State Prisons, 2000," July 2001
: Department of Justice Statistics
: "Mental Health and Treatment of Inmates and Probationers" (PDF)
This 1999 report from the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics -- its first comprehensive study of mental illness in correctional facilities -- found that there were approximately 284,000 mentally ill offenders incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails in 1998, or fully 16 percent of the total population in the nation's corrections systems. Among the report's other findings: mentally ill offenders were more likely to have committed violent offenses; half of the mentally ill inmates reported having at least three prior sentences; and only 60 percent of the mentally ill in state and federal prisons received some form of mental health treatment during their incarceration.
: "Mental Health Treatment in State Prisons, 2000" (PDF)
According to this Bureau of Justice Statistics report released in July 2001, one in every eight state prisoners was receiving some form of mental health therapy or counseling at midyear 2000. Among the report's other findings: nearly 10 percent of the inmates at state facilities received psychotropic medication; just over half of the state facilities provide 24-hour mental health care; and only two-thirds of the facilities help released prisoners obtain mental health services.
: Analyses & Recommendations
: Criminal Justice/Mental Health Consensus Project (PDF)
[Note: File is 2.7 MB.] This 453-page report released in June 2002, which was prepared by the Council of State Governments in coordination with other research and policy organizations, was funded in part by the U.S. Department of Justice. The authors provide a general overview of the current system and its shortcomings, and have included 46 "policy statements" that detail ways to improve the criminal justice system's management of mentally ill offenders. To view the report's recommendations online, use this flow chart of select events to navigate through each recommendation. Among other things, the report recommends that inmates be screened for mental illness once they are sentenced and that all corrections officers receive training on recognizing the signs of mental illness.
: "Mentally Ill Offenders in the Criminal Justice System: An Analysis and Prescription" (PDF)
The authors of this report from The Sentencing Project -- a nonprofit research and advocacy organization -- find that "mental disorders among prisoners are estimated to be at least five times more prevalent than in the general population." The report goes on to detail recommendations for improving the system, from funding alternatives to incarceration to providing better treatment to mentally ill parolees.
: "Prisons and Jails: Hospitals of Last Resort"
A study of the mentally ill in New York's criminal justice system, conducted by the Correctional Association of New York and the Urban Justice Center. The study found that 15-20 percent of city jail inmates were mentally ill, as well as 7-8 percent of state prisoners. "The vast majority of people with mental illness in the criminal justice system are not dangerous and are not incarcerated for long," the report states. The central premise of the report, its authors say, "is that people with mental illness rarely belong in jail and prison." Among their recommendations, the authors say that mentally ill patients should be diverted from the criminal justice system into mental health facilities and that the "continuum of care" extend beyond discharge.
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