Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Wall Street Journal on People with Mental Illness in Prison

See this article. An excerpt:

For years American prisons have been grappling with a surge in the ranks of mentally ill prisoners, caused in part by the shuttering of state-run mental-health facilities a generation ago. The Joseph Harp prison spotlights an often-overlooked aspect of that problem: how it has become self-perpetuating. Once imprisoned, mentally ill inmates are rarely paroled. Some "max out" their sentence, serving at least 85% of their term, and are released. With nowhere to go, and with a recidivism rate higher than that of the general prison population, they often end up back where they started.

Of the mentally ill prisoners housed at Joe Harp, as it is known, none are likely to be paroled, says James Keithley, the prison's psychologist and clinical coordinator. And then, if a violent inmate completes his sentence and is discharged, "Where do I send him? Mama don't want him," Dr. Keithley says. "If they act up here, you know what will happen if they're released. It scares the hell out of me."

In recent years, Oklahoma has had a dramatic increase in mentally ill prisoners, in part because it only recently shuttered state-run, mental-health facilities. According to the state, the number of inmates on psychiatric medications more than tripled between 1998 and 2005 to 4,017. The system's budget for such medication climbed even faster, growing from $154,000 a year to more than $2 million, in part because of the growing number of medications available. By comparison, the overall prison population rose 14% to 23,205.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates there are 300,000 people suffering from mental illness in state and federal prisons, compared with 70,000 in state psychiatric facilities. "Our jails and prisons are our largest mental-health facilities now," says U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine, a Republican from Ohio who has co-authored bills to create federal programs to improve services for mentally ill inmates.

Thanks to How Appealing for the tip.


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