The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world and of that over sixty percent of jail inmates reported having a mental health issue and 316,000 of them are severely mentally ill (Raphael & Stoll, 2013). Correctional facilities in the United States have become the primary mental health institutions today (Adams & Ferrandino, 2008). This imprisonment of the mentally ill in the United States has increased the incarceration rate and has left those individuals medically untreated and emotionally unstable while in jail and after being released. Better housing facilities, medical treatment and psychiatric counseling can be helpful in alleviating their illness as well as upon their release. This paper will explore the increasing incarceration rate of the mentally ill in the jails and prisons of the United States, the lack of medical services available to the mentally ill, the roles of the police, the correctional officers and the community and the revolving door phenomenon (Soderstrom, 2007). It will also review some of the existing and present policies that have been ineffective and present new policies that can be effective with the proper resources and training. The main objective of this paper is to illustrate that the criminalization of the mentally ill has become a public health problem and that our policy should focus more on rehabilitation rather than punishment.
A huge factor in the prevalence of mental health problems in United States prison and jail inmates is believed to be due to the policy of deinstitutionalization. Many of the mentally ill were treated in publicly funded hospitals up until the 1960’s. Due to budget cuts and underfunding of community mental health services we resorted back to prisons and jails as a “holding place” for those with a mental illness and it has been estimated that 670,000 mentally ill individuals are admitted to United States jails each year (Rock, 2001). The deinstitutionalization of state mental hospitals has left many individuals untreated and in the community where there come under police scrutiny due to their odd behavior, that is a manifestation of their illness. Majority of mentally ill offenders have not committed a serious crime and are subjected to inappropriate arrest and incarceration (Soderstrom, 2008). This new policy has become quite a concern to the fact that the correctional environment has proven to show no positive results in the mental health of the offender during their time of incarceration or upon their release date and thereafter (Soderstrom, 2008).
Another major factor is the lack of medical services in the prisons and jails. Many of the mentally ill are retained in the criminal justice system without the appropriate treatment needed because of the lack of trained staff in the mental illness field (Markowitz, 2011). There is usually limited access to treatment programs while incarcerated and a high risk of decomposition and...