Originally posted on A Solitary Torture:
“Prisons have become the nation’s primary mental health facilities. But for those with serious illnesses, prison can be the worst place to be.”
Director, U.S. Program of Human Rights Watch
“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 recent 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…”
California Prison Psychiatrist
Dr. Ken Martinez of the New Mexico Department of Children, Youth and Families said the figures showed “the criminalization of mental illness,” as “juvenile detention centers have become de facto psychiatric hospitals for mentally ill youth.”
Ernestine S. Gray, a Juvenile Court judge in New Orleans, testified that 70 percent to 85 percent of the children who appeared before the court had mental health or drug abuse problems.
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.
Something is amiss in this country. In the 1960’s the US changed its policy and methods of treating mental illness and began releasing more and more people from mental hospitals onto the streets. We did so while simultaneously relying on drugs to fix the problem of the cost of caring for the mentally ill citizens of this country. The problem was not solved but was merely shifted and swept away to another department – the department of corrections.