The National Sheriff's Association says; "In the 1990s, Deinstitutionalization drew enthusiastic support from fiscal conservatives interested primarily in saving funds by shutting state hospitals, as well as from civil rights advocates who believed that mental patients needed to be “liberated.”
This merging of the political right and left has made for strange—indeed, bizarre—bedfellows but has been a political juggernaut, ensuring that deinstitutionalization will continue to take place, as it does even today, despite clear evidence that for many patients it has been a disaster.
In 1992 a jail survey was sent to each of the 3,353 jails in the United States. Jail personnel were asked to assess what percentage of their inmates were seriously mentally
ill, defined as including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, “and related conditions,” and the questionnaire included representative vignettes. A total of 1,391 usable responses were returned. The average number of seriously mentally ill inmates was 7.2 percent, with a range from 2 percent (jails in Wyoming) to 11 percent (jails in Connecticut, Colorado, and Hawaii).
Welcome To The New Dark Ages
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.
The Case of the Disappearing Beds
In 2004 in the United States, there were 100,439 psychiatric beds available in public and private psychiatric hospitals and in the psychiatric units of general hospitals. Since the population of the country was just over 300 million, that means that there was approximately one psychiatric bed available for every 3,000 people. This contrasts to the situation in the United States in 1955, when there was one public psychiatric bed available for every 300 people. Thus, even not including private psychiatric hospital beds or the beds on psychiatric units of general hospitals in 1955, an individual with a serious mental illness was 10 times more likely to find a psychiatric bed for treatment in 1955 than in 2004.
Odds Of Sick People Going to Jail
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.