Thursday, September 07, 2006

Half of U.S. Prisoners Have Mental Health Problems, Yet Few Treated

Is it any surprise that those with mental health problems violate society’s rules and land in jail? The AP reported statistics on this issue.

More than half of America's prison and jail inmates have symptoms of a mental health problem, the Justice Department estimated Wednesday. But fewer than one-third of those with problems are getting treatment behind bars.

Just taking the state prisoner statistics, 56 percent of the nation’s 1.25 million prisoners reported symptoms of mental illness, which equates to 700,000 people. Of those, only 34 percent or 238,000 received treatment. This leaves over 1 million prisoners without treatment.

Federal prisons and jail inmates fared similarly in the prevalence of mental health problems but provided treatment at a lesser rate than states.

Two issues are at stake. One involves identifying the mentally ill in crisis and steering them into the mental health system vs. the correctional system. My community has a mental health deputy program with specially trained officers. They have diverted over 1,000 people in mental health crisis from jail to local crisis stabilization units.

Second, once they enter the prison system methods are needed to identify and treat those with active mental health illness. The statistics indicate America to be performing poorly overall. The article highlighted successful efforts by the state of Pennsylvania to address the problem.

The article identified an unprecedented and overwhelming problem then told a success or hero story. For a minute there I thought I was reading a Bush investigative report. Yet again where the government fails, the people pay.

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