Prisons have long been a final destination for drug addicts and people suffering from various types of mental illnesses. Oftentimes they are convicted of selling or using drugs or committing some unlawful act due to their mental state. However, while imprisoned, many of these people are not getting the help they actually need in order to get better.
According to a new study published by the Department of Justice, over 60% of inmates who are in need of help are not receiving any form of treatment. In this case mental health problems include drug abuse. This is despite the fact that there is plenty of information that would indicate that prisons, both state and federal, should have policies in place to help their mental health population.
The study shows that prisoners are five times more likely to have a mental health problem than other U.S. citizens, and most prisoners report that they have had a mental health issue at least once in their lives prior to being convicted.
As part of the study, the researchers wanted to determine how many current prisoners exhibit mental health issues without receiving treatment. They found that many of the inmates polled exhibited major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, all things that can lead to a drug addiction or a higher recidivism rate. What is unknown is how much being in prison escalated their symptoms, although some treatment experts have indicated that incarceration can trigger mental health issues.
“Once you’re in jail, your life is going to be destabilized – you’re going to lose your house, employment, it can have a snowball effect. Again and again we are seeing people who are in crisis and are being put in jail for substance abuse issues or mental health issues and that’s just not the best way to be dealing with those problems. Jails aren’t treatment programs,” explained Wendy Sawyer, an analyst with the Prison Policy Institute.
Of course, the main debate is whether the prison system is intended to help a person or punish the person. If prison policies aim to restore an individual to a working, honest and contributing member of society, then mental health help will need to be provided. There should also be frequent screenings to ensure that prison life is not creating more mental health issues and the focus should be on actual rehabilitation as much as possible.