Dr. Henry Paul, MD

Psychiatrist, Author and Educator


June 3rd, 2015

“Today, mentally ill Americans are disproportionately more likely to be arrested, incarcerated, suffer solitary confinement or rape in prison and commit another crime once released.” (CNN, 5/27/2015 “Mental Illness is no crime” by Newt Gingrich & Van Jones)

I have written a lot in my blog about the many mental health disorders, or illnesses, that American’s face; particularly teens and young adults. Statistics are showing more and more that as we downsize our mental health programs, for whatever the reasons, we are making it more and more difficult for those who need treatment to get it. What they get instead is incarcerated, and that coupled with mental illness is a recipe for disaster.

Besides mental illness, today’s prisons are also housing prisoners that are substance abusers that have addictions to alcohol and drugs; including painkillers and heroin. So, how in America are we going to help these people get treatment if the answer is to put them in jail?

38487370_sThe debate over prisons goes as far back as 1990 when the New York Times first tackled the story, “Prisons Are Clearly Not the Answer to Crime.” The article said, “New York must develop a restorative model of justice that emphasizes helping people to conquer the problems that led them to commit street crimes, that they might lead constructive lives. Integrated and effective drug treatment, programs for mental health, job training and education must be available. Treatment slots must be just as available as prison beds.”

In 2014, I think every major news outlet ran a story about the shortage of beds to treat mental health patients. Virginia Senator Creigh Deeds brought national attention to the issue, but only after his son committed suicide in November 2013 after they couldn’t find a bed for him at a mental health facility. Gus Deeds, the valedictorian of his class, suffered from bipolar disorder.

According to the CNN article by Gingrich and Jones, a 2006 U.S. Department of Justice study found “that three out of four female inmates in state prisons, 64% of all people in jail, 56% of all state prison inmates and 45% of people in federal prison have symptoms or a history of mental disorder.”

They also state in the article that there are more mental health patients in the prisons than there are in the mental health facilities. That to me is startling! Gingrich and Jones suggest that a new initiative, “Stepping Up; A national initiative to reduce the number of mental health patients in prisons”, is a step in the right direction. I agree. The group unites state and local governments and the American Psychiatric Foundation to find answers. As long as we continue to incarcerate and not treat those with mental illness the problem will only get worse. With our prisons now bursting at the seams, it is the opportune time for change.

This blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended as medical or psychiatric advice for individual conditions or treatment and does not substitute for a medical or psychiatric examination. A psychiatrist must make a determination about any treatment or prescription. Dr. Paul does not assume any responsibility or risk for the use of any information contained within this blog.

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