Jails and prisons have become de facto mental hospitals, according to law enforcement officials, politicians and mental health advocates. The jails and prisons are not suited to the task.
"We've been using our criminal justice system as a substitute for a well-functioning mental health system — we've sort of criminalized mental illness and addiction," said Sen. Al Franken in a news release. "I'm pleased my legislation to make our communities safer and stronger by helping our justice and mental health systems work together is one step closer to becoming law."
Franken was referring to a bill that would direct more resources to help the justice system handle the challenge of mentally ill offenders. He introduced the measure in January, along with Rep. Rich Nugent (R-Fla.).
The American Civil Liberties Union has been a vocal critic of the lack of adequate treatment for mentally ill people and of the penal system's role in dealing with the result.
"State prisons all over the country are facing crisis levels of mentally ill inmates," the ACLU said in 2009 testimony to Congress. "Large populations of mentally ill inmates, along with fiscal challenges and inadequate community resources, have created population management difficulties for prisons. ... Research has shown that a very high percentage of prisoners suffering from SMI [severe mental illness] are consigned to long-term administrative segregation — where extreme isolation and idleness makes their psychiatric conditions and prognoses worse."
LEARN MORE ABOUT MENTAL ILLNESS IN JAILS AND PRISONS:
As States Cut Mental Health Care Funding, Prisons Are Becoming Asylums
The Great Recession, in conjunction with states' propensities to cut Medicaid benefits in the face of the rising cost of health care services, led to some of the biggest cuts to state mental health care services in U.S. history between 2009 and 2011. Of course, the population of Americans with mental health problems didn't just disappear in that time. Facing a shortage of adequate medical resources, many of them are now ending up in the only place that will take them: America's jails. (ThinkProgress)