Welcome To The New Dark Ages
In the last 5 years, ODMHSAS Commissioner Terri White has not asked the legislature for even a dime in restored funding for mental health beds at our state-run hospitals. When ever the department's past funding was threatened, the first result was to shut down bed capacity. We are down to about 300 or a little more. the Treatment Advocacy Center recommends a baseline of 1800 beds for the Oklahoma population.
In 2000 the American Psychiatric Association estimated that about 20 percent of prisoners were seriously mentally ill, with 5 percent actively psychotic at any given time. In 2002 the National Commission on Correctional Health Care issued a report to Congress in which it estimated that 17.5 percent of inmates in state prisons had schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression. In 2003 Human Rights Watch, based on interviews and visits to state and federal prisons, estimated that approximately 20 percent of the prisoners were seriously mentally ill. A 2006 Department of Justice survey, based on a selected sampling of inmates, reported that 24 percent of jail inmates and 15 percent of state prison inmates “reported at least one symptom of a psychotic disorder.” Thus, these studies all concluded that between 15 and 20 percent of jail and prison inmates had a serious mental illness.
In 2000, Oklahoma finally closed the largest state psychiatric hospital, Eastern State, in Vinita. Between 1998 and 2005, the number of inmates in the state prisons “on psychiatric medications more than tripled.” In one prison, it was reported in 2006 that 40 percent of the inmates were on psychiatric medication.
The Case of the Disappearing Beds
Odds Of Sick People Going to Jail
Regarding the odds of a seriously mentally ill individual being in jail or prison compared to a hospital, the odds for all 50 states was 3.2 to 1 that they would be in a jail or prison. This means that in 2004–2005, throughout the United States, there were more than three times more individuals with serious mental illnesses in jails and prisons than in hospitals.
Today in Oklahoma, there are twice as many diagnosed mentally ill people in just the Tulsa County Jail, as there are in the entire State Mental Hospitals. It's estimated that in 2017, the odds are 10 to 1 that acute mental illness will result in a jail stay.
Another way to look at this problem is to ascertain what percentage of individuals with serious mental illnesses are put in jail. A 1991 survey of 1,401 members of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), an advocacy group for families of individuals with serious mental illnesses, reported that 40 percent of the mentally ill family members had been in jail at some point in their lives. Thus, it is fact, not hyperbole, that jails and prisons have become America’s mental hospitals. The country has reverted to a situation last seen in the early 19th century, when reformers such as Dorothea Dix inspired state legislatures to build psychiatric hospitals in which to place mentally ill individuals so that they would be treated more humanely.
Opinion of the Editor
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David Van Risseghem is the Director of Sooner Politics.org. The resource is committed to informing & mobilizing conservative Oklahomans for civic reform. This endeavor seeks to utilize the efforts of all cooperative facets of the Conservative movement...