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In Florida, for instance, where 120 inmates per month will need to be treated for illnesses before they stand trial, “if you divert two of them, the average bed wait drops from 12 days to 3 days,” Doris A. In Wisconsin, if eight beds were added to the state hospitals, the average waits for a bed would fall from two months to two weeks.
However, even after mentally ill inmates are released from jails and state hospitals, if they are not properly treated in their communities, they are at high risk of recidivism.
If they have untreated mental health problems and an arrest record, they have a much lower chance of getting a job and holding it down.
“Incarcerating pre-trial and convicted criminal offenders with serious mental illness is so common today that jails and prisons are routinely called the ‘new asylums.’ They are anything but protective,” said the report “Emptying the New Asylums” by the Treatment Advocacy Center.
The prison system does nothing to help an existing case of mental illness, and all too often exacerbates it.
An estimated 40 percent of those with severe mental illness are incarcerated at some point in their lives.
Some 90,000 people in prison have been judged “incompetent to stand trial.” In all but three states, they must then be treated back to a competent state. housed far more people in mental hospitals, but starting in the 1950s, a push to “deinstitutionalize” the system – as well as federal cases brought against hospitals for horrific abuses there – led to budget cuts and the closing of hospitals rather than states working to reform them, Leifman said.
Many crimes among this population are the result of someone’s untreated mental illness, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, panel members argued.