Two hundred years ago, it was common to house those with a mental illness with those who had committed crimes. Now it seems as though incarcerating those with a mental illness has become a common practice once again.
Within the academic literature and government data, there exists a great deal of variability with regard to the numbers of mentally ill offenders in the US penal system. It it difficult to know how big the problem is.
That is especially true when the latest, official government statistics about mentally ill offenders were last released in 2006. The 2006 Bureau of Justice Report (BJS) cited that 1,264,000 individuals have mental health problems.
Further complicating matters is that non-government and other reports of mentally ill offenders have varying definitions with respect to mental illness. Some estimate “mental illness,” “mental health problems,” while others estimate “serious mental illness.” The fact that there is no standardized reporting makes it difficult to accurately estimate the full scope of the problem.
What we do know is there are many mentally ill offenders who are incarcerated. We know that primarily because their stories often emerge in newspaper and other andetocal accounts. Unfortunately, many of those stories describe inhumane conditions and treatment.
You can read more about mentally ill offenders here.
You should also check out this must-see documentary about those with mental illness in prison by Jenn Ackerman.
The Rationale For Chronicling the Experiences of Mentally Ill Offenders
Across the nation, many states have strict inpatient commitment laws. A potential outcome of strict laws is that family members have to witness a loved one in a psychotic state, suffering for an extended period of time, before they can access treatment. Having to witness a loved one become progressively less psychological stable, on a daily basis, can be difficult and even traumatic. It is a helpless feeling to know that your loved one is in great need of psychological assistance but that help can’t be accessed until they are suicidal, homicidal or gravely disabled.
There are also occasions, after a family member is finally admitted to a hospital, that they are released too soon. Hospital stays are much shorter than they used to be. When such situations arise, (often referred to as the “revolving-door phenomenon”) some families have a desire to report their experiences with the mental health system but no such place has existed.
A similar problem may exist in the case of mentally ill offenders. Newspaper and government reports have indicated that there are many mentally ill offenders currently housed in jails and prisons. Many of those individuals are unable to receive the proper treatment and may be suffering as a result. To the best of my knowledge, a place to report the experiences of mentally ill offenders, outside the penal system, is relatively nonexistent. It is possible that friends or family members learn about incidents of suffering but lack a place to report these experiences. Because individuals who are incarcerated typically can’t report these experiences outside the penal system, it is the friends and family of inmates who can detail their experiences.
Sharing Your Story
It is important to continue to document the experiences of mentally ill offenders. There is a need to create a place to share these important stories. The public and policy makers need to know about these experiences.
Do you have a friend, family member or acquaintance who has a mental illness and who is incarcerated? Consider submitting that story.
What has their experience been like? Are they receiving the proper treatment? Are they getting better?
You can submit your story by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
By submitting your story you are giving permission to post it. All personal information will be removed and all submissions will be posted on this webpage.