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Prisons are no longer lockups for America’s worst offenders; they are asylums for the mentally ill

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Date: October 17th, 2019

Mentally ill offenders possess a unique set of circumstances and needs. Too often, the cycle through the criminal justice system without appropriate care to address their mental health needs has become a draconian issue for the twenty-six correctional institution in Pennsylvania – prisons are no longer lockups for America’s worst offenders; they are asylums for the mentally ill. The reality is the correctional institutions have become the de facto state hospitals.

Nearly a third of Pennsylvania’s 51,000 inmates have a mental illness. And a third have a serious mental health illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. 

Here is the million-dollar question – Why are so many of the states mentally ill being locked up?

Lack of funds, resources and manpower to meet the needs of the mentally ill while incarcerated; Lack of widespread utilization of diversion programs such as mental health and drug courts at the front end of the criminal justice process; Lack of resources within the prison system to link released mentally ill offenders to a community mental health care system that could meet the needs of those that do not need inpatient care; Lack of knowledge at the criminal justice process to determine how to refer mentally ill arrestees and offenders to various treatment programs; Inadequate and ineffective policies, at the state level, that instead of creating pathways it creates barriers.

The solution:

Innovative and comprehensive treatment programs in prisons; Diversionary measures for mentally ill arrestees, such as re-entry programs, to prevent high rates of recidivism; Effective polices at the front end of the criminal justice process.