Report: Mentally Ill Three Times as Likely to Go to Prison Than Hospital

“Deinstitutionalization,” the report reads, ” … has been one of the most well-meaning but poorly planned social changes ever carried out in the United States.”

The emptying of mental hospitals in the latter part of the 20th century was hailed for both cutting government costs and “liberating” the people inside. But for the most serious mentally ill, the move was a disaster, says a recently published by the Treatment Advocacy Center.

Among their findings: Washingtonians who suffer from mental illness are three times as likely to be incarcerated than to be in a mental health treatment center. Also: In 1955, there was one psychiatric bed for every 300 Americans; in 2005, there was one for every 3,000 Americans.

And here in Kitsap? I have only anecdotal evidence. In a recent conversation I had with Ned Delmore, head of Kitsap County’s Juvenile Department, he told me that daily, a large tray moves through the juvenile detention center, carrying psychotropic drugs for those housed inside. And in many criminal cases I cover, mental health issues are raised — though I am not professionally trained in deciphering which claims are legitimate, and which are not.

Andrew Binion, former Kitsap Sun reporter and current editor at the Central Kitsap Reporter, wrote a story in March 2008 about this very predicament, documenting three local cases. In part, he said:

“While the three cases shed light on inconsistencies with how the criminal justice and health care system deals with mentally ill suspects, they also square with what mental health advocates have said for years — that jails and prisons have become warehouses for the mentally ill.”

Binion writes that Kitsap Mental Health Services has programs for such patients. But there is too great an “overflow,” that spills into jails and prisons — places ill-equipped to treat the mentally ill.

The Treatment Advocacy Center’s report says we’ve come full circle:

“the situation faced by individuals with serious mental illnesses today is remarkably similar to individuals with serious mental illnesses in the 1840s—a shortage of psychiatric beds and an abundance of jail and prison cells. If Dorothea Dix came back today, she would feel right at home.”

So what does the report suggest as a solution? I’ll let you read it.

Final Jails v Hospitals Study

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