T’he Capital Times in Madison, Wis., reports on the state’s 7,000 inmates with mental illnesses. As of June 2008, they accounted for one-third of the total prison population of roughly 23,000. In the last few decades, since mental institutions have been shut down in favor of community-based care, prison has become a revolving door for those with mental illnesses. These inmates rarely get needed medications and treatment on either side of prison walls. It is not a phenomenon unique to Wisconsin, but rather a growing problem plaguing prisons across the country.
Now, because of a recent state audit and two lawsuits against the state, the treatment of Wisconsin’s mentally ill inmates is in the spotlight. The state is under a fast-approaching deadline to upgrade conditions for mentally ill inmates at Taycheedah, the state’s only female prison. Among other things, correctional officers will no longer be allowed to hand out medication, a change that may well put pressure on the state to discontinue that practice in its male prisons as well. The paper notes that mentally ill inmates receive inadequate treatment and therapy, which leads to self-destructive behavior, violent behavior toward guards and, ultimately, a high recidivism rate.