Mental Healthcare in Prisons

Over the last three decades, mental institutions as a whole have received a largely negative connotation in the court of public approval. Institutionalizing a loved one with a mental disability has become taboo as alternative care options are sought out, as more and more recognize mental health issues as something that cannot simply be shut away. This has not ended the shut-away process, however. While the country scrambles to find an alternative solution and Congress and the Senate debate the appropriate manners in which to aid the mentally ill, the de facto way of “handling” those with disabilities has instead become prison. A recent study conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice concluded that more than half of all prison inmates have some sort of mental illness, in contrast to just 11% of the overall population.

Often, those in prison with mental illnesses find themselves in solitary confinement. Solitary for the mentally ill is intended as a protective measure from themselves. Depression and other mood disorders are feared as leading to self-harm, and solitary is far from adequate care. The real issue with healthcare for the mentally ill is that many enter prison undiagnosed, and symptoms do not reveal themselves until a victim is already incarcerated.  The immediate jump to solitary is little more than a severe form of punishment than care from the hand of a failing system.

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