Can You Tell from Our Jails That Mental Illness is Not a Crime? P2 - Sparrow Law Firm

We are talking about jails and the incarceration of people with mental illness. This isn’t the first time we’ve broached the subject: We wrote about it in a series of posts (American jails have become de facto psychiatric facilities) — in 2011. Have our efforts to address the problem failed, or have we just given up?

Something is wrong, because four years ago, National Public Radio reported that 350,000 people with mental illness were in county jails. As we said in our last post, the number climbed to 800,000, though it may not be an apples-to-apples comparison. However, NPR also reported that the country’s three largest inpatient psychiatric facilities were county jails. Sound familiar?

The higher number may be explained by the lower number of mental health facilities that can take on detainees. In California, county officials point out a costly — in every sense of the word — disconnect in the system. When the court determines that a detainee is not competent to stand trial, the detainees are supposed to be transferred to a state hospital.

When those hospitals are at capacity, though — as they have been for a while now — the county simply puts the detainee on the waiting list. And sends him back to jail. One man has been in jail waiting for a bed to open up longer than he would have been if he’d been convicted of the crime. Treatment delayed is justice denied.

A national coalition of mental health advocates, public safety professionals and lawmakers has taken what they hope is a bold first step toward a solution. The initiative is “Stepping Up: A National Initiative to Reduce the Number of People with Mental Illnesses in Jails,” and the objective is to have individual counties sign on to take action and to share their experiences with the rest of country.

We’ll discuss the program and some North Carolina specifics in our next post.

Source: The Council of State Governments, “Launch of National Initiative Offers Counties Research-Based Support to Address Growing Mental Health Crisis in Jails,” May 6, 2015