Why Are Our Mentally Ill in Prison Instead of Getting Real Help?

Photo of arrestIn the United States, more mentally ill individuals are in jail than in psychiatric hospitals. Each year, more than 2 million people with serious mental illness are imprisoned in the US—equaling the size of Houston. This makes up 20% of the total incarcerated population.

Roughly half of those thrown into jail get no treatment, and the annual cost of keeping an individual with mental illness in prison is three times more than the average annual cost of community mental health services ($31,000 vs. $10,000).

The Revolving Door of Prison

Forget the ridiculous costs associated with it, jails fail the mentally ill for reasons far beyond that. The mentally ill need help in the form of therapeutic treatment, not punishment in the form of prison. When the mentally ill commit a crime, they should be taken to a place where they can recover.

As proven by the revolving door that the mentally ill repeatedly pass through between freedom and imprisonment, prisons in no way discourage criminalized mentally ill individuals from becoming repeat offenders. Being mentally ill is not a crime, but it is treated as such.

Collectively, prisons are the nation’s largest mental health facilities. The Dallas County Jail alone is the second largest mental health facility in all of Texas. This year, Dallas County is implementing a new approach called the “RIGHT Program” (Rapid Integrated Group Healthcare Teams) to help rectify this problem.

Each team will have a mental healthcare professional on it. This will hopefully mean that when a 911 call is made on a mentally ill individual, he will be treated as such. If he is arrested, he will then be screened at the jail for psychological issues, the results of which will be available at the hearing. It’s not perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction.

At Julian, Crowder and Shuster, Michael Crowder and Jared Julian are both former Peace Officers. Our Dallas criminal lawyers fight aggressively to defend clients accused of any crime to ensure their Constitutional rights are protected.

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