The imprisoned are living with mental illness. States are ill-equipped to help | Thursday Coffee

Good Thursday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

More than half (56 percent) of the people now in America’s state prisons have reported mental health issues, but only a handful ever receive treatment, underlining the need for states to shore up their safety net programs, new data shows.

Fourteen percent of those who reported a mental health issue said they’d suffered serious psychological stress in the last month, while 43 percent of incarcerated people said they’d been living with a previously diagnosed mental health issue, according to data compiled by the Prison Policy Initiative.

But only about a quarter, 26 percent, said they’d received professional help for their issue since entering state custody.

And only 30 percent of those who said they’d experienced serious distress within the last 30 days said they’d received help, the advocacy group’s data, which was based on information originally compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, showed.

“The data reveal policy failures that begin in our communities: governments have chipped away at the social safety net and accessible community-based treatment for years, while spending on the carceral system has increased,” the report’s author, Leah Wang, wrote.

“As law enforcement and courts respond to mental illness like it’s a crime, prisons and jails fill up with people who have serious mental health needs — which these systems are not designed to accommodate,” Wang continued. “And the longer they are in prison, certain people are likely to develop worsening mental health symptoms, especially those who are sent to solitary confinement.”

(Source: Prison Policy Initiative)

The report also found significant gender disparities, with women experiencing higher rates of mental illness than men.

According to the report:

  • Rates of post-traumatic stress disorder were almost three times higher among women than they were among men (34 percent of women, compared to 13 percent of men).
  • Rates of manic depression, bipolar disorder and/or mania (reported by 44 percent of women) and depressive disorders (49 percent of women) were double the rate of men.

(Source: Prison Policy Initiative)

The report further found that:

  • “Mental health diagnoses in state prisons are most prevalent among multiracial people (56 percent report one or more), white people (53 percent), and Native people (52 percent), compared to Hispanic (36 percent), Black (33 percent), or Asian (32 percent) people. These figures track closely with how people of different racial and ethnic groups utilize mental health services outside of prison.
  • “A staggering half (50 percent) of people in state prisons who have a history of substance use disorder treatment also have a history of one or more mental health conditions. This is disproportionate overlap: According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 38 percent of U.S. adults with substance use disorder also had one or more mental health disorders,” the data showed.

According to the report, some of the mental health issues reported by incarcerated people may have been brought on by their experience with the criminal justice system, which can be severely traumatic.

Data also show that when “someone is arrested, the odds of them having serious mental illness or psychological distress are even greater, reflecting the practice of sweeping people experiencing mental health crises into the criminal legal system instead of redirecting them to community-based services,” Yang wrote.

“Despite how ill-suited these facilities are for providing these services, prisons and jails have become some of our nation’s largest de facto mental health care providers since the deinstitutionalization of public psychiatric hospitals beginning in the 1950s,” Yang concluded. “State policy decisions, then, led directly to the profound overlap of mental illness and mass incarceration that we see today.”

(Photo by Angela Breck/Maryland Matters)

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Originally published at,by John L. Micek

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