I am investigating the current situation of individuals diagnosed with a mental illness and of their insufficient health status in prison; how they have always possessed a lack of support in institutions, even in ones that were constructed to ease their mental state. Now, it is a well-known fact that there’s been a dramatic rise in the number of people in prison over the last few years. However, what people generally don’t know is of the pitiful health status of prisons, especially for the average person diagnosed with a mental illness.
Or rather, we have an inkling, but we generally find ourselves not caring enough because we have been led to believe that prisons are filled with people who have created murderous and malicious crimes, but for the most part that isn’t true, and it’s even less true when it involves people with a mental illness. Not only that, but people with a mental illness need different conditions than those who don’t have one, and this is something that is often disregarded and overlooked in prison mental facilities. And this appalling quality in prisons can be compared with the conditions people with a mental illness were forced to go through in insane asylums (institutions for the mentally ill, which was practically the only form of treatment for mental illness during the 1600s-mid-1900s). However, there were major problems regarding these asylums which ranged from having extremely unhygienic environments to severe abuse and assault by staff members. And even though in the beginnings of the 1700s there was a series of improvements which strived to make these asylums a safer and sounder place for the mentally ill, it did not work.
Even towards the end of the 19th-century asylums were so corrupt and harmful that Nellie Bly, a well-known journalist, went undercover in one and stated that even a sane person would become “insane” by the treatment the institution. In 1955, however, starting shortly after medicine Thorazine was introduced, the United States went through a major social movement known as deinstitutionalization, where large numbers of mentally ill patients were released from mental institutions to live in the general population. Ten years after Thorazine began the deinstitutionalization movement, federal Medicaid and Medicare were introduced. Because Medicaid and Medicare did not cover patients’ costs of living in state mental institutions, many more patients were moved into general hospitals, outpatient medical clinics, and in prisons. Notably, as the number of patients in state hospitals plummeted because more people who were mentally ill were joining their community again, the number of people that were mentally ill in prison skyrocketed.
In short, they joined the general population but were then institutionalized once again in the form of prisons. And prisons are not at all equipped to care for them, in fact, prisons have instead been known to damage their mentality even more. A prime example of this is the fact that many of the prisoners who are diagnosed with a mental illness are subject to solitary isolation. Solitary confinement, which can be prolonged for years, and will worsen and intensify their symptoms. It also does not help that many myths that were generated in the past are still believed by people today, myths such as people with a mental illness are more likely to perform violent crimes, leading more people in today’s society to think it is alright to subject people who are mentally ill to go to prison without any objections. Such misunderstandings created consequences that lead a spike of mentally ill in prisons to lack support they need to function.
In this paper, I will further discuss the problem of the lack of responsibility federally funded community mental health centers have developed which was caused by the failure of the government to provide sufficient resources for people who are mentally ill during the deinstitutionalization movement leading to them being admitted to a prison, which has few qualifications to support them, instead.