Prisoners and mental health: Incarceration may complicate the problem

Prisoners and mental health: Incarceration may complicate the problem

The United States is home to just 5 percent of the world population, but it leads the world in incarceration with an estimated 25 percent of the world’s prisoners being in the country, according to a 2014 National Research Council (NRC) report by the American Psychological Association (APA).

Craig Haney, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz and member of the committee which produced the NRC report said, “No other country in the world imprisons its citizens as we do in the United States.” As the law necessitates inmates to serve 85 percent of their sentence, inmates are forced to spend more time behind bars. A report by National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reveals that approximately 20 percent of state prisoners and 21 percent of local jail prisoners have a “recent history” of a mental health condition.

Mentally ill inmates

According to a 2015 report published in, NAMI says that at least 400,000 inmates behind bars in the U.S. suffered from some type of mental illness — a population larger than the cities of Cleveland, New Orleans, or St. Louis.

On any given day, between 2.3 and 3.9 percent of inmates in state prisons are estimated to have schizophrenia or any other psychotic disorder; between 13.1 and 18.6 percent have major depression; and between 2.1 and 4.3 percent suffer from bipolar disorder, says the American Psychiatric Association. It doesn’t end here. The condition of convicts with pre-existing mental health issues gets deteriorated due to long-term imprisonment apart from posing a mental health challenge to those who had never served in jails before.

A report published by National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS) estimated that one in five inmates of the U.S. correctional population is seriously mentally ill. According to the APA, the deinstitutionalization movement of the 1960s — which shut down large treatment facilities for the mentally ill — coupled with the lack of community resources to treat them, resulted in some people going to prisons and jails instead.

Abused and neglected

Prisons can prove to be a frightening experience even for the most hardened criminals. A report released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) to Human Rights Watch (HRW) in 2007 revealed, “Some 4.5 percent of the state and federal prisoners surveyed reported sexual victimization in the past 12 months.”

Jamie Fellner, senior counsel of the U.S. Program at HRW, added, “When nearly one in 20 prisoners report being raped or sexually abused behind bars, it is clear that prison authorities are not doing enough to prevent these serious crimes.” Also, there is a likelihood of prison guards turning violent due to their high stress work environment.

Deterioration in prison

As per a news report published in The Gazette in 2015, “At least 100 inmates are languishing in Colorado jails without court-ordered mental health evaluations or treatments because officials are refusing to quickly admit them to the state mental hospital.”

Scott Glaser, executive director of the Colorado chapter of NAMI, told the Associated Press, “People with mental illness sometimes wind up in jail because law officers don’t know what else to do with them. And once in the criminal justice system, they cannot usually get effective treatment. It increases recidivism. If someone is dealing with a mental illness that affects their decision-making, it’s very easy for them to end up in the system again.”

Though prisons in any country were never designed to facilitate adequate treatment to the mentally ill, the rising number of convicts with symptoms of psychiatric disorders in the U.S. has resulted in lock-ups providing the necessary medical services during their incarceration.

Meeting the challenge

Those confined to a life behind the bars have either no or limited access to their family and friends, thereby, leaving them with no scope to avail of the services of an efficient mental health delivery system. People suffering from mental illnesses usually get caught in the net of the American law with their uncertain lives wrapped in immurement and community health programs.

In jail or outside, mental illness is something that cannot be ignored. If you or your loved one is fraught with a mental illness and you are looking for an effective treatment, you may get in touch with our experts at the Florida Mental Health Helpline. You can chat online or call anytime at 866-846-5588 to find out more about the treatment best suited to the problem.