“More Mentally Ill Persons Are in Jails and Prisons Than Hospitals” is the title of a survey that was published in the USA in 2010. It states that America’s jails and prisons have become its new mental hospitals, housing 3 times more seriously ill patients (3 million) than hospitals.
Almost 1 in 4 of inmates live with serious mental illness and their conditions are often under-treated or not treated at all. Harsh conditions, isolation and noise can “push them over the edge” into acute psychosis. An estimated 70,000 prisoners suffer from psychosis on any given day. Many of the sickest patients are not able to make any sense of orders screamed out at them. Here is a video that shows how inhuman the treatment of these inmates is. It is difficult to watch and I would not recommend it if you have the slightest worry of it potentially traumatising you.
A sheriff in 1973 said, “a good deal of mental illness is now being interpreted as criminality.” That seems to be the case even today, more than 4 decades later.
7 out of 10 youths in the juvenile justice system also experience mental health disorders, with 2 out of 10 experiencing disorders so severe that their ability to function is significantly impaired.
“The bedlam which ensued each time I walked out into one of those units, the number of people who were screaming, who were begging for help, for attention, the number of people who appeared to be disturbed, the existence, again, of people who were smeared with faeces, the intensity of the noise as people began to shout and ask, ‘Please come over here. Please talk to me. Please help me.’ It was shattering. And as I discussed this atmosphere with the people who worked here, I was told that this was an everyday occurrence, that there was nothing at all unusual about what I was seeing.” (Dr. Craig Haney, quoted in Elsner, Alan (2006). Gates of Injustice: The Crisis in America’s Prisons)
The situation in the UK is not very different as is apparent from the ‘Too little too late” report, an independent review of the unmet mental health need in prisons.
The lack of understanding of mental illness is rampant in all areas of life. How is it that we have advanced so little since the days of the infamous mental hospitals of the Victorian and pre-Victorian eras?