Prisoners and Mental Illness

March 13, 2015 • Volume 25, Issue 11
Are too many with psychiatric problems behind bars?
By Sarah Glazer

Introduction

Kalief Browder (Courtesy Paul V. Prestia)
At age 16, Kalief Browder was falsely accused of stealing a backpack and sent to New York City's notorious Rikers Island jail after he was unable to post bail. He spent three years at the facility — two in solitary confinement — before being released, never having gone to trial. Like many inmates who have endured solitary, the once sociable teenager now describes himself as having become paranoid, quiet and “distant.” (Courtesy Paul V. Prestia)

Thousands of people with schizophrenia, severe depression, delusional disorders or other mental problems are locked up, often in solitary confinement. While some committed violent crimes and remain a threat to themselves or other inmates and prison staff, many are incarcerated for minor offenses, simply because there is no place to send them for treatment. The number of mentally ill inmates has mushroomed in recent years as states have closed their psychiatric hospitals in favor of outpatient community mental health centers that typically are underfunded and overcrowded. In an attempt to reduce the influx of mentally ill inmates, some 300 specialized mental health courts have diverted them into court-monitored treatment instead of jail. Yet, many participants re-offend, and some experts say psychiatric treatment alone won't prevent criminal behavior. Meanwhile, courts in more than a half-dozen states have declared solitary confinement unconstitutional for those with mental illness. However, some corrections officials say solitary is necessary to separate dangerous prisoners.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Mental Health
Mar. 13, 2015  Prisoners and Mental Illness
Dec. 05, 2014  Treating Schizophrenia
Sep. 12, 2014  Teen Suicide
May 10, 2013  Mental Health Policy
Aug. 03, 2012  Treating ADHD
Jun. 01, 2012  Traumatic Brain Injury
Jun. 26, 2009  Treating Depression
Feb. 13, 2004  Youth Suicide
Feb. 06, 2004  Mental Illness Medication Debate
Mar. 29, 2002  Mental Health Insurance
Feb. 08, 2002  Treating Anxiety
Jul. 16, 1999  Childhood Depression
Jun. 18, 1999  Boys' Emotional Needs
Sep. 12, 1997  Mental Health Policy
Aug. 19, 1994  Prozac
Aug. 06, 1993  Mental Illness
Oct. 09, 1992  Depression
Jun. 14, 1991  Teenage Suicide
Jul. 08, 1988  Biology Invades Psychology
Feb. 13, 1987  The Mentally Ill
Aug. 20, 1982  Mental Health Care Reappraisal
Jun. 12, 1981  Youth Suicide
Sep. 21, 1979  Mental Health Care
Sep. 15, 1978  Brain Research
Jul. 05, 1974  Psychomedicine
Aug. 08, 1973  Emotionally Disturbed Children
Dec. 27, 1972  Mental Depression
Mar. 24, 1972  Schizophrenia: Medical Enigma
Apr. 21, 1971  Approaches to Death
Mar. 03, 1971  Encounter Groups
Nov. 25, 1970  Psychological Counseling of Students
Feb. 19, 1969  Future of Psychiatry
Feb. 02, 1966  New Approaches to Mental Illness
Jan. 22, 1964  Insanity as a Defense
Sep. 25, 1963  Anatomy of Suicide
Nov. 20, 1957  Drugs and Mental Health
Apr. 23, 1954  Mental Health Programs
Jul. 09, 1948  Mental Health
BROWSE RELATED TOPICS:
Crime and Law Enforcement
Criminal Law Procedure and Due Process
Domestic Issues
Mental Health
Sentencing and Corrections
Supreme Court History and Decisions