Did you know that Washington is one of only six states where the number of mentally ill individuals in psychiatric hospitals is less than the number of those currently incarcerated? Unfortunately, this is the truth, which means that in 44 states across the nation, including Washington D.C., there are more individuals with mental illness in the prison system than in hospitals.
Most people would like to think that the judicial system would prefer getting these people treatment rather than locking them away. But many states across the nation are not seeing this happen and instead are cutting their budgets for state run mental health facilities.
But many experts believe that this does a disservice to people with mental illness, especially those who are facing criminal charges and possible convictions. The longer a person goes without treatment, explains a doctor from the Treatment Advocacy Center, the “more vulnerable to their symptoms” they become. In some cases, this has led prisoners to exhibit more aggressive behavior, which can lead to more severe prison sentences. Some experts feel that in these cases, a person might not have received such a penalty had they received treatment.
Prison reform advocates have long argued that changes need to be done to prison systems across the nation, even here in Washington. A recent report released by the Treatment Advocacy Center may give credence to this argument by highlighting how some fixtures in the modern prison system can actually do more harm to mentally ill prisoners than good. The hope is that the report will sway legislators to make changes for the better though researchers with the Treatment Advocacy Center know that this will take a huge financial commitment that lawmakers may not be willing to make any time soon.
Source: MSNBC, “Prisons are the ‘new asylums' of the US: Report,” Meredith Clark, April 8, 2014