Mentally ill inmates need treatment not incarceration, says New York jails chief

Joseph Ponte, New York Department of Corrections Commissioner, yesterday admitted to state lawmakers that corrections facilities have become " de facto mental hospitals," a role they’re poorly equipped to handle.

This comes after one Rikers Island inmate with a history of mental illness died in February in a 101F (38C) cell and another mutilated himself after being locked away alone for seven days.

One problem mental health advocates point out is that police will not allow defendants to take their medications.

That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t also be locked up. If they commit a crime they are a danger to the rest of us. Mental illness should not be an excuse for not being punished. They should reopen some of the mental hospitals. Society has a right to be protected from dangerous people.

I can understand what he means.
And it is something we talked over and over with the chaplain in the jail where I ministered( in US).
When people are mentally ill,even if they have not committed a serious crime,it is difficult for them to share pods or jails with other people.
So they end up in solitary confinement. Until they have their sentences,sometimes many months go by and their cases worsen. They become more hostile,and more guards are required to move them.
Not because they are treated badly,that was not the case at least where I visited ,but because the space itself is,well…inappropriate for somebody whose state may require not only medicine but another environment.
Medicine is restricted in general,and to a point understandable. But there are cases,as he says that should end up at other facilities.
So yes,If you asked,this is really the one issue about jail I would say I always thought needed attention.

Mental health in the US is a total mess in general.

What do you mean.? Could these persons be helped somehow? Though I lived some years in US I really had no contact whatsoever with Mental Health,so I don’t know.

Depending on the severity of the illness, some people may not understand what they did was wrong or even remember doing it. Like those who suffer from psychosis. They aren’t in touch with reality, can hallucinate or have delusions. They shouldn’t be punished, they should be treated.

Treated! That was the word. Thanks!

I have worked with mentally ill criminals for many years and you are right, some of them really do need to be in a secure environment.

That being said, we need to move more mental health services into the corrections systems so that mentally ill inmates can get needed medications and treatment. Incarceration systems really have become the defacto mental health treatment centers, but there has not been any planning or programming to support the needs.

Then you might know this. Talking about South West. Are there jails or facilities that would be kind of prepared for less serious mental health issues? I missed part of conversations sometimes( mainly the accent!) and I understood there were. Or better prepared if you wish.

I am not aware of any that have been built or remodeled for either adults or juveniles that were created in such a way to accommodate the huge need.

Thank you.:slight_smile:

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