For years, the number of mentally ill prisoners in America has consistently climbed, while these inmates continue to suffer from a lack of treatment in the wake of psychiatric hospital closings.
In 2012, it was estimated that over 350,000 inmates with severe mental illness were in U.S. prisons and jails, while only about 35,000 were in psychiatric hospitals.
“We are not treating mental illness in this country the way we ought to,” said 2016 presidential candidate John Kasich during a recent appearance on ABC’s “The View.”
Mr. Kasich is right.
There is a clear need for improvement in policies nationwide to better handle those citizens that are desperately in need of psychiatric treatment.
In fact, in 88% of states as well as the District of Columbia, one prison or jail holds more individuals with serious mental illness than the largest remaining state psychiatric hospital.
And, what many don’t realize is that the increased availability of psychiatric beds and treatment to these offenders will not only benefit the patients, but it can also help to lower recidivism rates, decrease overcrowding in prisons and lower the amount of physical attacks on correctional staff and other prisoners.
Since taking office in 2011, Mr. Kasich has been a prominent proponent in the movement to support the mentally ill and has seen positive results after reforming policies in Ohio, results that can be seen by other states as well.
After strengthening the treatment of the mentally ill, increasing the overall capacity of psychiatric facilities and going from no emergency beds to a significant amount of emergency beds, Ohio’s recidivism rate dropped to approximately 27%.
This is significantly lower than the national average, which is almost 50%, an unacceptably high rate that America must take a higher interest in lowering.
And, while many factors, of course, influence the rate of recidivism, a lack of treatment for mentally ill offenders has been repeatedly shown to contribute to this number.
States should increase the capacity of their psychiatric hospitals, make sure emergency beds are available, equip prisons and jails to appropriately house seriously mentally ill inmates and properly train officials to deal with these inmates.
By implementing these reforms, recidivist rates will likely lower nationally, which would be a clear benefit to all Americans.
Wake up, America. Criminal justice issues stemming from the lack of treatment for mentally ill citizens are being overlooked, creating a desperate need for reform.
• Madison Gesiotto is a staff editor for the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law.