The Bureau of Justice Statistics has availed research proving that above half of all inmates suffer mental illnesses or disorders. More precisely, approximately 1.25 million prisoners of the 2.2 million inmates in the US are not in good mental health, a number that has multiplied fourfold in the last fifteen years.
The mental health conditions that so affect inmates include those causing unstable moods, thinking or behavior such as anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
Given the large proportion of mentally ill inmates, interest is drawn to the apparent relationship between mental illness and incarceration. Further studies indicate that mentally ill people’s likelihood to end up in prison is twice to four times more than those who are not.
Many professionals agree that numerous cases of incarceration would be avoided if only the mentally ill were afforded proper health care. This is further highlighted by statistics that indicate most mentally ill inmates are put behind bars for crimes that are minor and more importantly, preventable. These are crimes that can be tied to their state of a home, basic treatment or resources; what one could essentially term as crimes of survival.
A major challenge in caring for such patients is that most tend to be subject to a vicious cycle of sorts.
The first problem is that the mentally ill tend to spend longer behind bars that healthy people do. This is because they, more often than not, they stay behind bars while waiting for trial and sentencing as opposed to being released on bond or being sent to facilities where they could get proper health care. So the cycle is set in motion.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics has conducted studies that have indicated that while locked up, most mentally ill inmates do not get the appropriate treatment. This does not help their cases as their persisting conditions impact behavioral difficulties on them. As such, they mostly tend to miss the necessary conditions for early release despite their conviction for relatively petty crimes.
Seeing as they spend much longer than their mentally healthy counterparts in the lock up, their case is not helped by the fact that over four billion dollars in mental health care funds have been pulled from state budgets.
In light of this, many centers for mental conditions’ treatment have had to shut out patients while hospitals have reduced services. It is, therefore, no surprise that a study found out that there are more people with severe mental conditions in prisons than in hospitals.
The key out of this quagmire may be an appreciation of the fact that governments and institutions could actually be saving money by according the mentally ill proper care.
At Michigan State, for instance, the annual cost of holding an inmate is above $34,000 while mental health care outside prison in the same state cost between $2,000 and $9,000.
In this respect, experts might be right in calling for the pursuance of alternatives to incarceration for the benefit of all.