Corrections mental health care is a growing concern as jails and prisons begin to swell with more inmates.
Corrections mental health care is at best ineffective today. With millions of prisoners who need extensive mental health intervention and treatment, there is a real need for serious changes in corrections mental health going into the future.
The State of Mental Health in Jails Today
Many people still think of prisons as cold, dirty places that are supposed to be quite unpleasant. They see prison as a place for punishment, so they believe they should be amongst the most uncomfortable, miserable places on earth. The fact that most prisons now give inmates access to cable television and other luxuries seems an injustice to these people.
Then there are people who look at the current state of prisons and realize that there is a serious problem way more important than cable television. These people realize a huge underlying trend that needs to be changed: the lack of effective mental healthcare inside prisons contributes to the high recidivism rates amongst mentally ill criminals.
At this time, most prisons are focused on managing and controlling inmates who have mental health problems while they are incarcerated. Since most prisons are overcrowded and understaffed, the need to rehabilitate and treat criminals with mental and physical disabilities is noticed but not fulfilled.
Who Goes to Prison?
The U.S. Department of Justice released statistics in 2006 that revealed approximately half of all state and federal prisoners now show signs of mental illnesses ranging from depression to serious mood disorders like bipolar. There are also many disabled inmates who need specialized medical care in order to remain healthy. These prisoners create strain on the system because they have a heightened need for mental and medical care.
The problem today is that prisons do not have the staff or funds that are necessary to meet all of the mental health needs of all mentally ill prisoners. What mental health programs are currently in place tend to be inadequate as mental health professionals are overwhelmed with huge case loads and the lack of necessary resources to meet the needs of so many mentally challenged inmates.
The end result is thousands of mentally ill inmates who come through the system repeatedly without getting the care they need to bring their behavior in line with what society deems acceptable. Prisoners with mental health problems are far more likely to reoffend and are often well known faces in the prison system.
The Need for Correctional Therapies in Prisons
There are some prisons that are implementing rather unique correctional therapies for those that need more mental health services, such as programs that use animals, music, and artistic expressions. These programs are mostly being implemented and maintained through the support of outside organizations from the community. There is a serious need for more of these programs in more prisons.
The typical correctional therapy programs offered through state and federal prisons include counseling programs and group self-help programs. Most states also prescribe psychotropic medications which are a means of managing mental disabilities, rather than effectively treating and correcting them.
The Future of Corrections Healthcare
Whether you view prisons as cold, dirty places designed for punishment or you take a more humanistic view and see them as places that should rehabilitate criminals into productive citizens, there is a desperate need for healthcare reform inside U.S. prisons.
Many criminals who enter our current prison system without a mental illness are leaving in a far worse mental state. Those who do enter with serious mental illness are leaving without getting adequate treatment which leads to commit crimes over and over again, becoming burdens and dangers to society.
Prison is designed to punish, but it is also in the best interest of society as a whole for prisons to deliver effective mental healthcare to all inmates so they are better prepared to abide by the laws once they leave prison. Currently, most mentally ill inmates leave in worse mental condition than they enter. That is a scary thought for the rest of society.
There are many nonprofit organizations and community social groups pushing for better treatment for mental and physical disabilities in prisons. They are even introducing some rather controversial ideas, such as possibly creating separate courts for the mentally ill who commit non-violent crimes. Just as we have drug courts that push non-violent drug offenders into drug treatment prison programs, there should be special programs designed to treat criminals with serious mental illness.
The future of corrections healthcare must show improvements over what is available in most prisons today. Prisoners may be given access to cable television, but they are not receiving the mental care that they need to correct serious disorders that puts the local community in danger when they are released.