The United States has 5 percent of the world’s population, yet we have 25 percent of the world’s prison population, with 2.2 million individuals confined within our nation’s jails and prisons. The percentage of incarcerated individuals with psychological or psychiatric disorders has been steadily increasing since the 1960s, which by most accounts stems mostly from the deinstitutionalization of the state mental health system.
Prisons and jails have become the de facto state hospitals responsible for confining and caring for the mentally ill. There are more seriously and persistently mentally ill individuals imprisoned in correctional institutions today than in all U.S. state hospitals combined. This requires a major paradigm shift in thinking, practice, and policy: Prisons were never intended nor designed to cope with a tremendous influx of individuals with significant degrees of mental illness.
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Michael Pittaro, In Public Safety, December 7, 2018