Press Releases

Election 2010: People with Mental Illness Don't Belong Behind Bars; Are Candidates Addressing the Facts?

Oct 19 2010

October 19, 2010

Arlington, Va. — The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) charged today that when states cut mental health services, costs often are shifted to law enforcement and corrections systems—with almost 25 percent of inmates in prisons and 20 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system living with serious mental illnesses.

See Belowfor State-by-State Data (Adults)

On average, state mental health care systems get only a D grade, in part because of a lack of adequate investment in community services.

Over the past 20 years, state spending on correctional systems has increased 350 percent from $10 billion to $45 billion. High spending on correctional costs are considered one cause of state budget crises.

As Election 2010 enters its final stretch, NAMI has been urging editors, reporters, bloggers and others in a series of special alerts to ask all candidates to address the nation's mental health crisis. (See previous alerts below.)

Here are the facts:

  • About two million people with serious mental illness are booked into local jails each year. About 30 percent of female and 15 percent of male inmates in local jails have serious mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. The majority of arrests are for non-violent offenses such as disturbing public order or property offenses. Many have been homeless.
  • Seventy percent of youth in the juvenile justice system also experience mental health disorders, with 20 percent experiencing disorders so severe that their ability to function is significantly impaired.
  • In prisons, almost 25 percent of inmates live with serious mental illness, but their conditions are often under-treated—or not treated at all. Harsh conditions, including isolation and noise, can "push them over the edge" into acute psychosis. An estimated 70,000 prisoners suffer from psychosis on any given day.
  • Fifty percent of people with mental illness who have previously been in prison are rearrested and returned to prison not because they have committed new offenses, but because they are unable to comply with conditions of probation or parole—often because of mental illness.
  • In prison, people with mental illness often lose access to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security benefits. Even when benefits can be restored upon release, reapplying for can be time-consuming and complex. Without case management and community assistance, individuals with mental illness are at risk of requiring costly emergency medical services or ending up back in prison.
  • Based on a comparison of two programs in Illinois and New York, between approximately $20,000 and $40,000 per persons can be saved by providing the mental health care than putting a person in jail.

Adults with Mental Illness in Prison by State; rounded to 100 (excludes local jails)

Alabama 7,100
Alaska 700
Arizona 8,900
Arkansas 3,500
California 41,400
Colorado 5,600
Connecticut 3,400
Delaware 1,000
DC    NA
Florida 24,600
Georgia 12,600
Hawaii 1,000
Idaho 1,700
Illinois 10,900
Indiana 6,800
Iowa 2,100
Kansas 2,000
Kentucky 5,100
Louisiana 9,100
Maine 500
Maryland 5,500
Massachusetts 2,400
Michigan 11,700
Minnesota 2,300
Mississippi 5,200
Missouri 7,200
Montana 900
Nebraska 1,100
Nevada 3,100
New Hampshire 700
New Jersey 6,200
New Mexico 1,500
New York 14,400
North Carolina 8,200
North Dakota 300
Ohio 12,400
Oklahoma 5,800
Oregon 3,400
Pennsylvania 11,800
Rhode Island 600
South Carolina 5,600
South Dakota 800
Tennessee 6,500
Texas 37,700
Utah 1,500
Vermont 400
Virginia 9,200
Washington 4,300
West Virginia 1,400
Wisconsin 5,100
Wyoming 500


Sabol, W. J., West, H. C. and Cooper, M., Prisoners in 2008, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, (2009), and James, D. and Glaze, L., Mental Health Problems of Prison and Jail Inmates, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, (2006).

NAMI Election 2010 Series

Since Labor Day, NAMI has issued as series special alerts to editors, reporters, bloggers and others, encouraging them to ask candidates about the nation's mental health crisis. Are candidates addressing the facts? The series includes state by state data.

Other Resources