US jails struggle with role as makeshift asylums


Experts have pointed to rising numbers of inmates with mental illnesses since the 1970s, after states began closing psychiatric hospitals without following through on promises to create and sustain comprehensive community treatment programs.

A subject near and dear to my heart. I have been frustrated over this issue for years. The number one cause is a hypocritical populous, something common in a democracy of the ignorant. No one wants to pay the taxes to treat the mentally ill. No one wants to deal with the mentally ill in public. Both of these cannot exist. Instead, we have warehousing for the mentally ill every time one comes across some clerk in a store that is scared and calls the cops.

FYI - When looking at the death rate in jails, bear in mind the death rate out of jail is 0.9 per 1000.


It seems that we increasingly live in a society which increasingly equates the value of individual lives with their productivity in labor markets. The preborn, elderly, disabled/differently abled, and mentally ill are so often treated as inconveniences. May Saint Dymphna pray for us all and may we as a people become better stewards and caretakers of these souls.
pnewton: do you know if your out of jail death rate statistic refers to the general population or to only those who are mentally ill? This would be helpful to me as I think about comparisons.
Thank you and may God bless you.


General population.

It is hard to compare the two, as the elderly are not equally represented in jail. However, substance abusers are represented at a much greater rate, and they have a higher mortality rate. I think the key is to remember that people die. Whether one is in jail or not, this fact does not go away.


This is incredibly sad. I wonder if this problem is really widespread?

As a person with severe mental illnesses myself, it dismays me that this is going on. These people need to be sent to mental hospitals if they are a threat to themselves or others, not to jail. There are other mental health interventions that can be done too for those who are not a threat to themselves or to others.

Another thing that I wish the justice system would take into account more is the fact that mental illness does affect one’s behavior. All too often are people sent to jail or prison for something that they would not have done had they not had a mental illness or had they been adequately treated for their mental illness.


The problem starts with the public. Too often, the first response to any mentally ill person is calling the police. Retail stores are notorious for this, protecting the sensibilities of their clientele.


What society really seems to want is for the mentally ill to just go away - out of sight, out of mind. When the state mental hospitals were closed in the 1980s, conservatives applauded the decision as cost-cutting genius, yet we are still collectively paying for the nominal care of the mentally ill in our prisons. Putting the mentally ill back on the street, assuming they would find their own way to the care they needed, was an experiment that failed. Is it time to bring back some sort of state mental hospital system? Would we do a better job of it now than we did 30 years ago when conditions were reportedly often less than humane? It seems like we as a society are going to pay to keep the mentally ill, especially those prone to violence, off the street one way or the other. Do you have another solution?


I would like to see district attorneys decline to prosecute a specified list of charges on anyone whose behavior part of their documented mental history. The most glaring offense is criminal trespass, but others include, terroristic threat, disorderly conduct, public intoxication, abusive 9-11 calls and a host of other things that others would just receive a citation for. I think the number of mentally ill in jails could be cut in half easily by just eliminating those be housed for the sake of societal convenience. Those that are really a danger then would be able to receive better care.


I completely agree with you and often times the police are poorly trained, if they are trained at all, as to how to deal with the mentally ill. I know this from experience. One time years ago I called 911 because I was suicidal and needed to be taken to the hospital for an evaluation and admittance to the mental health ward. Well, when the police got there they made fun of me, right in front of me. They things like “You need to have your head examined.” and other derogatory and hateful comments focused on mental illness. Some of what they said was in front of me but they did say it to me. I was angry about this for years but I have since forgiven them.

There is also the fact that there is such a huge stigma associated with mental illness in our society. A huge number of Americans suffer from mental illness but yet often times if a person finds out you have a mental illness, especially a severe one, they treat you like as though you have the plague or like as though you are mentally retarded. I hate it and I know many others hate it as well. The fact is that this stigma is even made worse by the media. For example there is the “comedy” movie called “Me, Myself, and Irene” which is about a man who has multiple personalities. It is very stigmatizing towards those who literally suffer from Dissociative Identity Disorder.


No they don’t want you to go away, in fact they know thats not reality. What happens is the same as Obama care. Socialistic submission to the system based on preventative care which there is no such thing as.

We are still putting the mental heath case’s on the street only with little to no care. Its called independent living. Like prison they peek through the windows now and again to see how the animals are fairing.

Yes its time for much more “inpatient TREATMENT” Without confusion over the concept of treatment.

And yes there is a solution, God back in the schools, structure and family orientation not abandonment to the street and negative role models, drugs, VICE! :slight_smile: Oh I almost forgot, cure not prevention. According to our current administration everyone is sick which makes them, well sick!


Holly, I am so sorry for the way you have been treated. I think your pointing to the stigma attached to mental illness is very important. Mental illness seems to be the taboo subject in our society and many people seem to lack information about mental illness.
When I speak to others about it (I have friends and family with mental health challenges), I tend to get two responses. The first involves aversion and withdrawal-there is a sense that it may be catching. It is surely an awkward and uncomfortable subject for many. The second reaction (which often follows the first) is a positive response as the person recognizes that they are in a space where they can safely talk about a mom, a sibling, a cousin, a neighbor (or maybe even their own challenges) in a supportive atmosphere.
I think that most of us know or are related to someone with a mental health challenge but find it a difficult subject for conversation and that the more we can do to educate ourselves and others, the better we will be able to promote care and acceptance for our loved ones.
I point people towards NAMI as a clearinghouse for information and support services for the mentally ill (WAMI in my state).
The lack of hospitalization resources in my state is a scandal. (We had two large facilities closed back in the day and getting even short term (3 day evaluation) care is difficult.
May God bless all our loved ones with mental illnesses and help us to find the strength and courage to find and create the resources that will support them to His greater glory.


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit