The American criminal justice system is dire need of reform, and mental health is an important aspect that is repeatedly ignored. The de-institutionalization of the mentally ill, spurred by the horror stories and Hollywood films like “One that Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, forced many onto the streets and into the arms of the justice system. Making prisons the largest mental health facilities is reprehensible, and only increases the strain on a broken justice system. These are the main reasons are why the criminal justice reforms need to address mental health.
- Mass Incarceration of Mentally Ill: According to the Department of Justice, 56 percent of state prisoners, 45 percent of federal prisoners, and 64 percent of local jail inmates were found to have a mental health problem. At least 24 percent of those in jail have a serious diagnosed mental health disorder. Roughly, 1.25 million prisoners suffer from some form of mental illness.
- The Staggering Costs to Treat Them: The estimated cost to care for a mentally ill patient is at least $130 per day. The estimated total cost of all of the mentally ill is estimated to be $162,500,000 per day.
- The Average Time in Jail is Higher: Mentally ill patients typically tend to stay in prison longer than the average offender. In New York, the average jail time for a mentally ill prisoner would be 215 days.
- Large Rate of Prison Suicides: In the last 20 years, the amount of mentally ill inmates committing suicide has nearly doubled from 19 percent to nearly 38 percent.
- High Recidivism Rates Among Mentally Ill: At least 25 percent of both state and jail inmates who have a mental illness have had 3 or more prior incarcerations.
Americans should not rely on prisons to be the main provider of mental health services. It creates an unfair burden on the system whilst at the same time harming the lives of those that are in most need of help. The current state of affairs is bad for our taxpayers, but doubly so for our mentally ill. As of January, the House of Representatives has reported a positive package of reforms from committee to address the issue.