The event, which was sponsored by APA, aimed to promote awareness of the numerous challenges people who are living with mental illness in U.S. jails and prisons face and highlight possible policy solutions to help meet the needs of this population.
People with mental illness in U.S. jails and prisons often spend more time behind bars than those without such disorders, said Binder, a forensic psychiatrist. They also tend to incur more infractions and are more vulnerable to victimization by other inmates—all in a setting not designed or equipped to provide them with treatment.
Binder, together with other leading experts in psychiatry, mental health, and law enforcement who spoke at the meeting, called for enhanced efforts to change the way that people living with mental illness who have been incarcerated are treated.
“Local and state leaders must join with criminal justice, mental health, and substance use professionals to steer and support long-term efforts to move mental health care from our jails to the community,” said Mary Ann Borgeson, who has served as county commissioner in Douglas County, Neb., for 21 years. “But we can’t do it alone. We need federal leadership and we ask Congress to make the efforts needed to reduce the criminalization of people with mental illness.”
According to the speakers, some of the nation’s 3,069 counties have already started to change the way they treat people with mental illness who intersect with the criminal justice system, including modifications in arrest policies and law enforcement training, the establishment of mental health courts, and the development of re-entry supported housing programs.
“However, we need to give local jurisdictions help to decrease the number of people with mental illness behind bars,” Binder said, noting the array of bills targeting mental health reform already proposed in both the House and Senate.
“Numerous provisions in these bills would give local jurisdictions the support they need to reduce the number of persons with serious mental illnesses who are jailed each year,” Binder wrote today in a blog post. “The APA has taken the lead in collaborating with leaders in Congress toward the furtherance of these goals, but we can’t do it alone. I urge you to get involved with your state and local legislature and communicate to them the unique issues that your community faces in regards to the criminalization of people with mental illness.”
For more about people with mental illness in U.S. jails, see the Psychiatric News article, “Counties Seek Help to Reduce Numbers of Mentally Ill Inmates.”
(Image: David Hathcox)