Correctional Facilities Can Not Substitute for Mental Hospitals
In the United States, there are more mentally ill people in prison than there are in mental health facilities. Mental illnesses go unrecognized and untreated for a variety of reasons. Some people can not afford treatment, and the government does not provide easily accessible free or cheap mental healthcare to its American citizens. Others are hindered in their ability to identify or treat their own mental health problems because of symptoms they are experiencing. When illnesses go untreated, they can get worse and people can experience a disconnection from reality, which greatly interferes with their decision-making ability. This is why crimes are often committed by mentally ill people, because they are unwillingly separated from reality and are unaware of the consequences that have to be faced from their actions. Failure to recognize mental illness and properly treat it in America has caused prisons to be filled with mentally ill people. Prisons do not provide adequate mental health care, and are extremely unsafe environments for a mentally ill person to have to inhabit. In order to properly treat mental health issues and keep everybody safe, prisons must provide full mental health care to all prisoners, and education on mental health should be taught to all Americans.
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Punishing somebody who does not understand why you are punishing them does not teach a lesson. This is why the current treatment of mental illness in our country is extremely inefficient, and changes need to be made to make progress in the safety of mental health patients and those who interact with them. Mentally ill prisoners are at a much higher risk of being assaulted by fellow inmates, and committing suicide. Research from the Treatment Advocacy Center reveals that, “Individuals with serious mental illness in prison were nine times more likely to report that they were sexually victimized by another inmate than individuals with no mental illness” (Treatment Advocacy Center). This is why non-violent offenders who suffer from mental illness should never inhabit a prison. Instead, people who fit this criterion should be transferred to a mental health facility. Consequently, the safety of mentally ill people would no longer be at risk, and the option would finally exist for people to begin treatment of their behavioral or physical symptoms. The only option for violent criminal offenders who suffer from serious mental health problems is a correctional facility in order to protect the safety of themselves and people around them; however, they must be guaranteed protection from abuse by staff or fellow inmates, and access to treatment for their illness needs to be available to them while in correctional custody at all times. On the federal level, our government needs to ensure that prisons offer mental health specialists on-site, who can properly diagnose patients and explore methods of treatment for them. Any prison that does not offer mental health services should not be allowed to have mentally ill prisoners. Treatment of any disease should be a guaranteed human right to every American citizen, incarcerated or not. Diseases that effect a person mentally need to be taken just as seriously as those that have physical effects. The end goal should be to rehabilitate prisoners and send them back into their community, especially those who committed a crime as a result of untreated mental illness.
Another major aspect of the mentally ill being incarcerated is the affects prison has on their life after they are released. Trying to reintegrate into society can be tough for all former prisoners, so the chances of a mentally ill person being able to effectively transition back into regular life is very low. Life after prison is so difficult for many reasons. Once prisoners are free, they are provided with very minimal resources from the government, and they likely don’t have any personal resources or a lot of support from family and friends. It is also very hard to find a job, because a lot of employers will disregard applications from somebody with a criminal record. When somebody is in that position, it is very difficult for a person to be able find any opportunities to get back on their feet. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, the most recent data in America shows that the unemployment rate of former prisoners is 27.3%. This rate is more than five times higher than the general population, and higher than the rate of the general population ever in American history. This is why the number of people who are sent back to prison after being released is very high, because they feel as if they have no choice but to go back to crime in order to support themselves. In a study from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, they recorded that out of about 400,000 prisoners who were released in 2005, 83% of those people would be rearrested by 2014. These statistics are from a random group of inmates released, if the study was concentrated to mentally ill prisoners only, the rate of rearrests would be even higher. The solution to this problem is the same as the solution I discussed for the problems they face while incarcerated. Rehabilitation is known to be more effective than incarceration at preventing reoffenders. When support is provided and illness is treated, it is much easier for people to reenter their communities, families, and work-places.
A common argument against rehabilitation is the cost. Who is going to pay for it? That is a very common question people ask while discussing rehabilitation. It is true that implementing rehabilitation policies would be costly at first, and need a lot of immediate federal funding for it. This is because the government has done a poor job in the past of ensuring rehabilitation is available for everybody, so a lot of catching up needs to be done on that front. However, in the long run rehabilitation is actually more cost effective than incarceration. No taxpayer money would go to waste. In a study by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, they report that, “The fee to cover the average cost of incarceration for Federal inmates was $34,704.12 in 2016… The average annual cost to confine an inmate in a Residential Re-entry Center was $29,166.54 in 2016” (Federal Bureau of Prisons). So, it would pay for itself in a short amount of time, and it is proven that it would save a lot of money annually compared to incarceration. The sacrifices that would have to be made to effectively implement rehabilitation into America do not outweigh the benefits that would come consequently. Less prisoners, less rearrests of prisoners, improved mental health in Americans, and more people who are given a chance to contribute to the American economy. Policies need to be implemented to start allocating federal money previously used for incarceration to rehabilitation centers instead.
Stigma against mental illness is slowing down progression in treating mental illness, and is a major factor for the mentally ill landing in prison. Even though the information about rehabilitation’s effectiveness has been available for decades, not nearly enough progress has been made. A lot of people are close-minded and refuse to become educated about mental illness. That’s because of mental illnesses increasing likeliness of committing crime, or perceived criminal-like behavior. But without properly addressing the illness, the problem obviously just becomes worse. In statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, it is shown that in America annually, nearly 60% of adults do not receive treatment for a mental illness they have, and nearly 50% of youth. Mental health needs to be taken way more seriously in and out of prison. Education about mental health should be taught in the first twelve years of general education, in order for people to know how to react to another person who is experiencing a mental disease, or how to identify symptoms within oneself. This is important so that mentally ill people do not become separated from their families and communities, and can receive proper treatment before their illness even takes over. It is ignorant that such a common problem is so often excused in our country, even though millions of people go through similar experiences, they end up feeling alone and without hope.
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Mental health is one of the biggest problems in America that is not being treated with nearly the attention and support it requires from the government. Treating mental health has never been a priority in America, and the consequences are being felt today. Because illnesses are not treated at nearly the rate they should be, mental health patients often turn into criminals. Prisons have become filled with mentally ill people at an obscene and inhumane rate. It requires government action to replace incarceration of the mentally ill with rehabilitation. Education of the matter needs to be greatly improved in school, and it should not be optional. Mental illness is something that almost everyone will deal with at some point in life, so awareness of the situation should be a priority for Americans. Only then will America see improvement in rates of mental illness treatment, incarceration rates, and the cost of treating mental illness.
- Alper, Mariel, et al. “2018 Update on Prisoner Recidivism: A 9-Year Follow-up Period (2005-2014).” Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), 23 May 2018, www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=6266.
- Couloute, Lucius, and Daniel Kopf. “Out of Prison & Out of Work: Unemployment among Formerly Incarcerated People.” Prison Policy Initiative, July 2018, www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/outofwork.html.
- Hyle, Ken. “Annual Determination of Average Cost of Incarceration.” Federal Register, 30 Apr. 2018, www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/04/30/2018-09062/annual-determination-of-average-cost-of-incarceration.
- “Mental Health by the Numbers.” National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2018, www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-By-the-Numbers.
- Sinclair, Elizabeth. “RESEARCH WEEKLY: Victimization of Individuals with Serious Mental Illness.” Treatment Advocacy Center, 14 Nov. 2017, www.treatmentadvocacycenter.org/fixing-the-system/features-and-news/3942-research-weekly-victimization-of-individuals-with-serious-mental-illness-.
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