Jails are often labelled mental health facilities because so many people with psychological problems are incarcerated in them. More than half of all of the prisoners in the United States suffer from a mental health problem, according to a 2006 Justice Department study. Among female inmates, the figure is almost three-quarters.
Jails are not the best places to deal with people who have mental disorders which is why sentences in the community which help offenders deal with their problems can be a more effective way of helping them deal with their problems and preventing re-offending.
There are also some troubling questions about how well jails can cope with inmates who have mental health problems. This month, the Dallas Morning News reported that the Dallas County Jail passed its state inspection for the seventh year but inspectors ordered the jail to audit its mental health procedures.
Lead inspector Fred St. Amant, of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, said the audit was a result of an inmate complaining that he had requested psychiatric help on two occasions but never received it. The jail’s own system confirmed that the inmate’s grievances were received, but he didn’t see a mental health provider.
St. Amant told an audience made up jail staff at the Dallas County Commissioners Court, the incident appeared to be an isolated one but he wanted to make sure inmates were getting the level of care they should receive.
St. Amant said the jail, which is the seventh-largest in the United States, has dramatically improved in recent years. Just a decade ago, federal authorities intervened, warning the conditions for inmates were potentially dangerous and inhumane. The jail failed state inspections seven straight times from 2004 to 2010.
Sheriff Lupe Valdez, whose office runs the lockup, told the Dallas Morning News the growing numbers of mentally ill inmates present a huge challenge. Up to half of them have mental illnesses, and many more have illnesses that have not been diagnosed, she said.
A recent report by the Treatment Advocacy Center, found jails and prisons in America housed about 356,268 inmates with a mental illnesses in 2012. The figure is more than 10 times the number of mentally ill patients who are housed in state psychiatric hospitals in the same year – 35,000 people.
A recent article in the Washington Post blamed a “widespread failure to treat mental illness.”
From the 1950s onwards, America saw a movement to deinstitutionalize mental health and treat more patients in community-based treatment centers. While state mental hospitals held 558,922 patients in 1955, the figure is now about 35,000 patients.
The failure of many of these community treatment plans has left many people with psychiatric disorders homeless or in jail. The article pointed out jails are inadequate places for these inmates who are more likely than other prisoners to end up in solitary confinement, while many commit suicide, become victims of sexual offenses or harm themselves.
If you suffer from a mental disorder and have been charged with a crime, it’s important to hire an experienced Texas criminal defense lawyer, to help ensure you are not exploited by the criminal justice system.