We just published an interview with Chaplain Brian about a diagnosed and treated mentally ill inmate he had been seeing for the past 8 years. This particular inmate is no longer being treated for mental illness after studying Christian Science in prison and working with Chaplain Brian. There are literally tens of thousands of inmates in the system who are not so fortunate.
The complete report will take a little while to read — and is hard to stomach. But Stanford Law School’s “Three Strikes Project” has published an in-depth look at this problem that describes in detail the problems facing the system, including investigating causes and potential solutions.
We can no longer ignore the massive oppression we are inflicting upon the mentally ill throughout the United States. Over a century ago, Dorothea Dix began a movement to improve the deplorable conditions of mentally ill prisoners. Despite her success in changing the country’s perception and treatment of the mentally ill in prison, we are now right back where we started in the nineteenth century. Although deinstitutionalization was originally understood as a humane way to offer more suitable services to the mentally ill in community-based settings, some politicians seized upon it as a way to save money by shutting down institutions without providing any meaningful treatment alternatives. This callousness has created a one-way road to prison for massive numbers of impaired individuals and the inhumane warehousing of thousands of mentally ill people.
We have created conditions that make criminal behavior all but inevitable for many of our brothers and sisters who are mentally ill. Instead of treating them, we are imprisoning them. And then, when they have completed their sentences, we release them with minimal or no support system in place, just counting the days until they are behind bars once again. This practice of seeking to save money on the backs of this population comes with huge moral and fiscal cost. It is ineffective because we spend far more on imprisonment of the mentally ill than we would otherwise spend on treatment and support. It is immoral because writing off another human being’s life is utterly contrary to our collective values and principles.
The numbers are staggering: over the past 15 years, the number of mentally ill people in prison in California has almost doubled. Today, 45 percent of state prison inmates have been treated for severe mental illness within the past year. The Los Angeles County Jail is “the largest mental health provider in the county,” according to the former official in charge of the facility.
Please take the time to download and read their report (22 pages, PDF), and give this your prayerful support.