Helping a loved one who is experiencing a severe mental illness, especially someone who may not realize they are sick, is one of the greatest gifts you can give. For some, it may mean the difference between life and tragedy. ~ Treatment Advocacy Center
(April 9, 2014) In 1972, Marc Abramson, a young psychiatrist in San Mateo County, California, sounded the initial alarm for what he viewed as the “criminalization of mentally disordered behavior.” As California was emptying the state mental hospitals, Abramson was noting a rapid increase in the number of mentally ill inmates in the San Mateo County Jail. Reports from the California state prisons were describing a similar increase.
Forty-two years have elapsed since Abramson published his observations. The Treatment Advocacy Center’s newest report on the plight of individuals with untreated severe mental illness surveyed each state to ascertain what has happened to this trend during the intervening years.
“The Treatment of Persons with Mental Illness in Prisons and Jails: A State Survey” found we have placed more than 300,000 severely mentally ill individuals in prisons and jails that are neither equipped nor staffed to handle such problems. We subsequently have made it very difficult to treat the mentally ill inmates by putting restrictions on other options for controlling their behavior and then blamed the prison and jail administrators when the limited options fail. It is a situation that is grossly unfair to both the inmates and the corrections officials and should be the subject of public outrage and official action.
The survey thus demonstrates that the transinstitutionalization of seriously mentally ill individuals from state psychiatric hospitals to state prisons and county jails is almost complete. From the 1830s to the 1960s, we confined such individuals in hospitals, in large part because there were no effective treatments available. Now that we have effective treatments, we continue to confine these individuals but in prisons and jails where the treatments are largely not available. We characterize seriously mentally ill individuals as having a thinking disorder, but surely it is no worse than our own.