U.S. Prisons and Offenders with Mental Illness
October 22, 2003

Mentally ill offenders face mistreatment and neglect in many U.S. prisons. One in six U.S. prisoners is mentally ill. Many of them suffer from serious illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression. There are three times as many men and women with mental illness in U.S. prisons as in mental health hospitals. The rate of mental illness in the prison population is three times higher than in the general population. This 215-page report examines how prisons are dangerous and damaging places for mentally ill people. Other prisoners victimize and exploit them. Prison staff often punish mentally ill offenders for symptoms of their illness – such as being noisy or refusing orders, or even self-mutilation and attempted suicide. Mentally ill prisoners are more likely than others to end up housed in especially harsh conditions, such as isolation, that can push them over the edge into acute psychosis. Woefully deficient mental health services in many prisons leave prisoners undertreated – or not treated at all. Across the country, prisoners cannot get appropriate care because of a shortage of qualified staff, lack of facilities, and prison rules that interfere with treatment. The report is based on more than two years of research and hundreds of interviews with prisoners, corrections officials, mental health experts and attorneys and makes recommendations on services and regulations that would assist and protect mentally ill prisoners.

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ISBN: 1564322904