Now a disturbing new report reveals that many jails are being forced to care for inmates with mental illness – a task they are poorly equipped to handle.
In his AP piece titled Overwhelmed US Jails Struggle with Role as Makeshift Asylums, Adam Geller reports that many of the 3,300 jails in the US have become treatment centers for people with serious mental illnesses – most of whom were arrested for non-violent crimes:
U.S. jails, most of whose 731,000 inmates are trying to make bail or awaiting trial, hold roughly half the number in prisons. But last year, jails booked in 11.7 million people — 19 times the number of new prison inmates. The revolving door complicates the task of screening for mental illness, managing medications, providing care and ensuring inmate safety.
Experts have pointed to rising numbers of inmates with mental illnesses since the 1970s, after states began closing psychiatric hospitals without following through on promises to create and sustain comprehensive community treatment programs.
But as the number of those with serious mental illnesses surpasses 20 percent in some jails, many have struggled to keep up, sometimes putting inmates in jeopardy.
For clarity’s sake, here’s the difference between jails and prisons: Jails are most often run by sheriffs or local governments and are designed to hold individuals awaiting trial or a serving short sentences, and prisons are operated by state governments and the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and are designed to hold individuals convicted of crimes.
Correctional systems define mental illness in terms of inmates who take medication for serious issues ranging from major depressive disorders to schizophrenia and bipolar disorders. They also include inmates with diagnoses that justify overnight stays in a mental hospital, or those who demonstrate serious functional impairment.
Experts have attributed the rise in inmates with mental illness to the closings of psychiatric hospitals. They say one reason is that many states do not have comprehensive community treatment programs. In the 1980s, approximately 6% of inmates showed signs of mental illness. A 2009 study revealed that 17% of inmates have serious mental illness. And far greater numbers have been reported by individual jails.
Researchers long warned mental illness is being “criminalized,” as police arrest more people for low-level offenses.
Last year, during an interview with 60 Minutes, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart warned about the dangers of sending mentally ill people to jail. Dart called jails and prisons “the new insane asylums” and says the criminal justice system is not equipped to address issues of mental illness:
Not only are inmates with mental illness not receiving the care they need, they are also more likely to be abused while incarcerated.
The Young Turks reported on the shocking abuse that is occurring in America’s prisons:
Let’s go back to an important point – many inmates with mental illness are incarcerated for low-level, victimless crimes. About 70% of inmates who suffer from mental illness are serving time for drug charges.
Another important point worth considering is that these individuals may be self-medicating with illegal drugs. Marijuana has been shown to be beneficial in treating anxiety and depression, for example.
Darren Rainey, 50, died while incarcerated a the Dade Correctional Institution. He was serving a 2-year sentence for a victimless crime; possession of cocaine. At the time of his death, he had only one month to go before his release.
Rainey, who suffered from mental illness, was accused of defecating in his cell without cleaning it up. The Florida’s Department of Corrections often comes up with cruel and imaginative punishments for prisoners — allegedly ranging from starvation diets to forcing prisoners to fight so the guards could place bets.
Rainey’s punishment was to stand confined in a narrow chamber, being blasted with hot water and steam, and left to suffer there for over one hour.
“I can’t take it no more, I’m sorry. I won’t do it again,’’ Rainey screamed over and over, the Miami Herald discovered from a fellow inmate’s grievance complaint.
The Miami Herald reports that it was DOC Officer Roland Clarke who was on video placing Rainey in the shower at 7:38 p.m on June 23, 2012. He was found dead at 9:30 p.m.
Rainey’s case is still being investigated, supposedly.
In 2013, the Obama administration requested $25.6 billion in federal spending on the drug war. Of that, $15 billion was designated for law enforcement, interdiction and international efforts.
When you combine state and local spending on everything from drug-related arrests to prison, the total cost adds up to at least $51 billion per year. Over the last four decades, American taxpayers have spent $1 trillion on the drug war.
The result of that spending? Unchanged drug addiction rates and the world’s highest incarceration rate, with 2.2 million Americans in jail or prison.
Indeed, the war on drugs has been an abject failure. In his article The War That Never Ends, Neil Simon revealed some alarming statistics:
Halfway through 2014, nearly 900,000 U.S. citizens have been arrested for drug offenses this year. Nearly half of those arrests are for possession of marijuana.
If one of the goals of the drug war is to fill up U.S. prisons, that goal is being met.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, since Dec. 31, 1995, the U.S. prison population has grown by an average of 43,266 inmates per year. About 25 percent are sentenced for drug law violations.
With more states considering the legalization of marijuana, the US may slowly start to relax its tyrannical and ineffective drug laws, resulting in less imprisonment for those charged with victimless crimes. But with the increasing police state and big money in the private prison system, things aren’t looking too good for Americans – especially for those who suffer from mental illness or addiction.
Lily Dane is a staff writer for The Daily Sheeple, where this first appeared. Her goal is to help people to “Wake the Flock Up!”