The Prevalence of Mental Illness in our Criminal Justice System
Mental Illness has been prevalent all throughout our history from Isaac Newton to Abraham Lincoln to Sylvia Plath and so on. These illnesses can be as minor as a slight bipolar disorder or as severe as schizophrenia. In recent years, mental illnesses are becoming more prevalent in our criminal justice systems than anywhere else. Mental illness is becoming an association with crime and based on the information that has been found, this paper will attempt to further define the problem of mental illness within our criminal justice system and offer alternatives or insights as to how to possibly help with this problem.
In the United States alone, 57.7 million individuals suffer from mental illness. These illnesses range anywhere from mood disorders to anxiety disorders or to personality disorders and so on (The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders in America). 18 to 25 year olds make up about 30% of these individuals alone (Survey Finds Many Living with Mental Illness Go Without Treatment). These individuals require care from medication to psychiatry or even to confinement. However, of these 57.7 million individuals with mental illness, studies have found that less than one in three of these individuals receive proper treatment (Studies Say Mental Illness Too Often Goes Untreated).
Furthermore, there are around 10 million individuals booked through the jail systems in a year. Of these 10 million individuals, around 700,000 of these individuals have symptoms of serious mental illness. However, though already high numbers, these numbers are expected to be lower than the actual due to individuals not wanting to report or not knowing to report their mental illnesses (Mentally Ill Offenders in the Criminal Justice System: An Analysis and Prescription, 5). But, why is it that these numbers are increasing in jails and prisons? According to the study “Mentally Ill Inmates: Financial Impacts and Opportunities for the Future” by Nancy A. DeFerrari, the number of beds for mentally ill individuals has decreased significantly in the last 30 or so years. She states that the number has decreased from close to 600,000 in the 1960s to about 40,000 or less presently. DeFerrari also makes the point that just because the beds for these people are decreasing, does not mean that the number of these individuals are too.
As a whole, literature on the topic of mental illness in our country and specifically in our criminal justice system had a reoccurring theme. There are millions of individuals who suffer from mental illness but are improperly being handled through the criminal justice system. These individuals are deemed criminal just by their acts and their mental health state is not overly examine. Jails and prisons are being overcrowded. State prisons and jails are overpopulated anywhere from 15 to 32% (Spending Money in All the Wrong Places: Jails & Prisons).