Thursday, May 29, 2014

American jails have become the new mental asylums – and you're paying the bill

The Cook County Jail has a vegetable garden on its roof. It also spends approximately $12,441 for the average 87-day stay of each detainee in its mental health dorm, away from the general population. Photograph: Ramon Gonzalez / Special to The Guardian
How to fund real treatment, instead of turning would-be patients into expensive inmates

Thomas J Dart in Chicago
Wednesday 28 May 2014 09.17 EDT, The Guardian

The man running the largest mental health institution in the United States is not a doctor. He did not major in psychiatry, nor did he spend his formative years studying bipolar disorder or working with schizophrenics.

That man is me, a history major turned lawyer who went on to become the sheriff here. As sheriff, I run the Cook County Jail, the largest jail on a single site in the country with approximately 10,000 inmates on any given day – and approximately 30% of them suffering from a serious mental illness.

With dramatic and continued cuts to mental health funding on the federal and local level, county jails and state prisons are where the majority of our mental health care is being administered today. According to the Treatment Advocacy Center, the largest mental health institutions in 44 of our 50 states are jails or prisons. And 10 times as many mentally ill individuals reside in jails and prisons than in state mental health hospitals, where they should.

The conclusion is heartbreaking but no longer undeniable: we have criminalized mental illness in America, and you are paying for it.

It is shameful. Deplorable. Immoral. Simply put, the mentally ill belong in treatment – not in jail. It would be cheaper that way, too.

(More here.)

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