U.S. Prisons Have 10 Times More Mentally Ill Than State Hospitals

4/9/14 11:09AM EST

US Prisons Have 10 Times More Mentally Ill Than State Hospitals U.S. Prisons Have 10 Times More Mentally Ill Than State Hospitals

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The numbers of mentally ill individuals in U.S. prisons is growing rapidly, but the figures have already reached critical mass. According to a new study by the Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC), there are now 10 times more prison inmates with mental illnesses than there are patients in psychiatric wards at U.S. hospitals.

As of 2012, the number of inmates with “severe mental illness” had swelled to 356,268 individuals in U.S. jails and prisons, the TAC report estimated. Looking at the 35,000 patients at state psychiatric hospitals, the ration is greater than 10:1.The study found about 90 percent of states had a single prison that held more mentally ill individuals than the biggest state hospital.

In a country where an exploding prison population has enormous societal and fiscal ramifications, this report communicates just how dire the situation is. Mentally ill individuals are far more likely to end up prison. Once they arrive in a correctional facility, their condition worsens, leaving them subject to longer stays in prison and lesser chances of adapting to outside life once released back into society.

The TAC report declares the root of the problem to be “the continuing closure of state psychiatric hospitals and the failure…to provide appropriate aftercare for the released patients.” The beginning of this vicious cycle leads to countless mentally sick individuals ending up in prison after committing crimes in the community. Once they leave jail, they are worse off than when they arrived.

Though solutions would take years to even attempt, TAC’s recommendations include overhauling the treatment of mental illness in the U.S. as well as reforming prison treatment practices. When an inmate clearly cannot be treated in a correctional facility, the report recommends releasing inmates for appropriate mental health care outside of the prison, In addition, TAC recommends more studies be commissioned so officials can begin treating the problem like the epidemic it is.

U.S. prisons are “America’s new asylums,” the report states. Every citizen is worse off for it.


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