Severely Mentally Ill Persons More Likely to be in Jails than Hospitals, State Data Shows; Calif. Rates of Mentally Ill Pe

ARLINGTON, Va.--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- Americans with severe mental illnesses are three times more likely to be in jail or prison than in a psychiatric hospital, according to "More Mentally Ill Persons are in Jails and Prisons than Hospitals: A Survey of the States," a report by the Treatment Advocacy Center and the National Sheriffs’ Association.

“America’s jails and prisons have once again become our mental hospitals,” said James Pavle, executive director of the center, a nonprofit dedicated to removing barriers to timely and effective treatment of severe mental illnesses. “With minimal exception, incarceration has replaced hospitalization for thousands of individuals in every single state.”

The odds of a seriously mentally ill individual being imprisoned rather than hospitalized are 3.2 to 1, state data shows. In California the odds are 3.8 to 1—higher than the national average. The report compares statistics from federal government statistics collected during 2004 and 2005. The report found a strong correlation between states with more mentally ill persons in jails and prisons, and states that spend less money on mental health services.

“The present situation, whereby individuals with serious mental illnesses are being put into jails and prisons rather than into hospitals, is a disgrace to American medicine and to common decency and fairness,” said study author E. Fuller Torrey, M.D., a research psychiatrist and founder of the Treatment Advocacy Center. “If societies are judged by how they treat their most disabled members, our society will be judged harshly indeed.”

Recent studies suggest that at least 16 percent of inmates in jails and prisons have a serious mental illness. According to author and NSA Executive Director Aaron Kennard, “Jails and prisons are not designed for treating patients, and law enforcement officials are not trained to be mental health professionals.”

Report author Richard Lamb, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Southern California said, “This report documents what we see on a daily basis. Deinstitutionalization, restrictive commitment criteria and a lack of adequate community support programs are making it more likely for psychiatric patients to be in correctional facilities than in hospitals.”

Among the study’s recommended solutions are for states to adopt effective assisted outpatient treatment laws to keep individuals with untreated brain disorders out of the criminal justice system and in treatment. Assisted outpatient treatment, an alternative to inpatient hospitalization, allows courts to order individuals with brain disorders to comply with treatment while living in the community. Studies show it reduces hospitalization and incarceration while increasing adherence to treatment.

Data on prisoners for the report were obtained from the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ report, “Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2005.” Data about inpatients in public and private psychiatric hospitals were obtained from the 2004 Inventory of Mental Health Organizations.


Treatment Advocacy Center
Tracey Mills, Communications Consultant, 703-294-6003
[email protected]

KEYWORDS:   United States  North America  California  Virginia

INDUSTRY KEYWORDS:   Health  Hospitals  Public Policy/Government  Law Enforcement/Emergency Services  Mental Health  Public Policy