The treatment of the mentally ill in our criminal justice system has profound impacts for the individuals, their families, and the state. These important studies investigate the opportunities and challenges of reforming the criminal justice system’s management of the mentally ill.
A Brief Cost Analysis of Arkansas Mental Health and Prison Reform Arkansas Public Policy Panel, April 2015. View cost analysis.
The Treatment Advocacy Center serves as a resource on the intersection of the criminal justice
system and untreated severe mental illness by publishing reports that shed light on the
consequences of our broken mental health system.
TAC’s “Overlooked in the Undercounted: The Role of Mental Illness in Fatal Law Enforcement
Encounters,”is a sobering look at the issues.
NAMI–the National Alliance on Mental Illness–is an outspoken opponent of jailing people as a response to mental breaks.
In a mental health crisis, people are more likely to encounter police than get medical help. As a result, 2 million people with mental illness are booked into jails each year. Nearly 15% of men and 30% of women booked into jails have a serious mental health condition.
The vast majority of the individuals are not violent criminals—most people in jails are have not yet gone to trial, so they are not yet convicted of a crime. The rest are serving short sentences for minor crimes.
Once in jail, many individuals don’t receive the treatment they need and end up getting worse, not better. They stay longer than their counterparts without mental illness. They are at risk of victimization and often their mental health conditions get worse.
After leaving jail, many no longer have access to needed healthcare and benefits. A criminal record often makes it hard for individuals to get a job or housing. Many individuals, especially without access to mental health services and supports, wind up homeless, in emergency rooms and often re-arrested. At least 83% of jail inmates with a mental illness did not have access to needed treatment.
Jailing people with mental illness creates huge burdens on law enforcement, corrections and state and local budgets. It does not protect public safety. And people who could be helped are being ignored.