American Jails Have Become De Facto Psychiatric Facilities, P. 2 - Sparrow Law Firm

North Carolina recognized long ago that jail and prison inmates often suffer from mental illness. The Department of Correction had dedicated mental health facilities long before the Reagan Administration shut down state hospitals across the country. That de-institutionalization, though, put a whole new population of men and women on the streets; many went from inpatient to inmate in no time.

As we mentioned in our last post, National Public Radio estimates that 350,000 prison and jail inmates, incarcerated for the whole spectrum of offenses, have mental illness. North Carolina’s portion is large enough to warrant two new treatment centers, one in Raleigh’s Central Prison — with 216 beds dedicated to mental health treatment — and one in the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women, with 70 beds.

The state is spending $202 million on new health facilities, hospitals and outpatient clinics covering all health issues. The mental health beds at Central Prison, though, will add just 120 medical beds, a little more than half the number of mental health beds. The women’s facility will add 80 medical beds along with the 70 mental health beds.

These aren’t the only costs the state incurs dealing with prisoners with mental illness. One justice system veteran says that the “old” way of handling these cases was both expensive and inefficient.

Suspects would show up in court and act out, he says, and the court would order psychological evaluations “at great expense” just to figure out if the suspect was competent to stand trial. The answer was often “No,” so the suspect went back on the street. In some cases, it took only minutes before he’d be back.

We’ll wrap this up in our next post.

Source: National Public Radio, “Nation’s Jails Struggle With Mentally Ill Prisoners,” Sept. 05, 2011