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Department of Justice Study: Mental Illness of Prison Inmates Worse Than Past Estimates

Reflects Failures in Mental Healthcare System

Statement of Michael J. Fitzpatrick, MSW
Executive Director, National Alliance on Mental Illness

September 6, 2006

The release today of a study by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) showing than 64 percent of local jail inmates, 56 percent of state prisoners and 45 percent of federal prisoners have symptoms of serious mental illnesses is an indictment of the nation’s mental healthcare system.

It is both a scandal and a national tragedy.   The figures are worse than those generally believed in the past, in which estimates of the total number of inmates with mental illnesses have been approximately 20 percent.

The study reveals that the problem is two to three times greater than anyone imagined.

What is even more disturbing is the number of these inmates that have served prior sentences, committed violent offenses, or engaged in substance abuse.

What it means is that the mental healthcare system is failing—long before people enter the criminal justice system and after they leave it. Individuals are sentenced to lives without hope and enormous costs shifted on to our police, courts, jails and prisons at all levels.

Unfortunately, Americans should not be surprised. In a comprehensive survey of state mental healthcare systems released this year, the national average grade was a D. Eight states received grades of F. Only five received Bs.

States are failing to invest in providing adequate mental healthcare. Skimping at the front end leads to results like those reflected in this report.

Read the full report from the Department of Justice (pdf, 464kb, opens in a new browser window)

Copyright Date: 09/06/2006

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