In 2016, an estimated 90,000 US jail inmates were pretrial defendants with serious mental illness who had been found incompetent to stand trial (IST). IST services most commonly take place in state hospitals. Most state hospitals maintain waitlists of IST inmates because they do not have enough beds to meet demand. Waits are typically around one month but some are as long as a year. While the inmates wait, typically without treatment, they deteriorate, are often victimized and sometimes die.

Emptying the ‘New Asylums’: A Beds Capacity Model to Reduce Mental Illness Behind Bars reports the findings of a mathematical model built to project whether relatively modest selected changes to the status quo could break this logjam. Data from five sample states were used to model the effect of three specific changes. Eight recommendations for state and federal lawmakers are proposed in response to the findings.

Top Takeaway

Relatively small changes in common policy and practice could dramatically reduce pretrial bed waits and the mass incarceration of individuals with serious mental illness.

Treatment Advocacy Center
January 2017