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Criminalizing the Mentally Ill --Prisons as Mental Institutions

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Say_What Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Nov-05-03 02:26 PM
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Criminalizing the Mentally Ill --Prisons as Mental Institutions
Author Joanne Mariner is a human rights lawyer. This article is based on Human Rights Watch's just-released report, "Ill-Equipped: U.S. Prisons and Offenders with Mental Illness," which was written by Sasha Abramsky and Jamie Fellner.

<clips>

U.S. prisons and jails, packed with over two million inmates, hold many people that society would be wise to keep elsewhere. With state budgets bankrupted by the high costs of mass incarceration, the need to reconsider the draconian sentences meted out to nonviolent drug offenders has never been more obvious.

There is, moreover, another sizeable group of prisoners for which wholesale imprisonment is even less appropriate: the mentally ill. Prisoners with mental illness frequently endure violence, exploitation and extortion at the hands of other inmates, and neglect and mistreatment by prison staff. Not only is the experience of imprisonment counter-therapeutic for such prisoners, many mental health experts believe that it dramatically increases their chances of psychiatric breakdown.

Despite good reasons to limit the incarceration of the mentally ill, their numbers behind bars continue to grow. Over the past few decades, the country's prisons and jails have become the default mental health system. Somewhere between two and four hundred thousand mentally ill people are incarcerated, several times more than the number of people living in mental institutions.

The results, from a therapeutic, humanitarian, and human rights perspective, are appalling. "We are literally drowning in patients," explains one California prison psychiatrist, "running around trying to put our fingers in the bursting dikes, while hundreds of men continue to deteriorate psychiatrically before our eyes."

http://www.counterpunch.org/mariner11052003.html


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