Mentally ill people are 10 times more likely to be in prisons and jails than in state psychiatric hospitals, a new study says.
The report by the Treatment Advocacy Center and the National Sheriffs’ Association says the problem is getting worse and urges action because “prisons and jails have become America’s new asylums.”
The study, which also examines treatment laws across the country, noted that there were an estimated 356,268 inmates with severe mental illness in prisons and jails in 2012, and only about 35,000 in psychiatric hospitals.
The problem will grow until the public and policymakers reform the mental health system, said Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, one of the authors of The Treatment of Persons With Mental Illness in Prisons and Jails: A State Survey and founder of the Treatment Advocacy Center in Arlington, Va.
“We will continue to see a large number of mentally ill homeless and … the episodes of violence committed by people who are severely mentally ill and untreated will continue to increase,” he said.
The study, released last week, recommends improving mental health treatment inside prisons and jails, promoting diversion programs such as mental health courts, allowing authorities to administer medication involuntarily and other reforms.
Summit County made national news two years ago when former Sheriff Drew Alexander announced that the jail would no longer accept mentally ill inmates until they were first treated. He complained that the county jail had become a dumping ground for the mentally ill.
That policy has disappeared under new Sheriff Steve Barry.
“We do accept them,” jail administrator Greg Macko said Thursday. “We would prefer not to. We don’t have the resources.”
He estimated that 25 percent to 30 percent of the inmates are on some psychotropic drugs. Those inmates are now grouped into the same area to keep a better eye on them, he said.
The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction says about 20 percent of its inmates receive mental health services, while about half of those have some serious mental illness.
The report notes that the prison and jail problem now elicits “a collective public yawn.”
“They don’t understand that seriously mentally ill people … wouldn’t have been there, in most cases, if they had been treated,” Torrey said.
To read the full study, go to: www.treatmentadvocacycenter.org.
By Rick Armon - Akron Beacon Journal (MCT)
©2014 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)
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