Jails–the New U.S. Mental Hospitals? Annual Bookings Estimated at 2.1 Million


Los Angeles County’s Twin Towers Correctional Facility, part of the nation’s largest municipal jail system, houses 3,900 inmates. “A majority of those inmates are deemed mentally ill,” Sheriff’s Lt. Joseph Badali tells NPR. The U.S. incarcerates hundreds of thousands of inmates suffering from mental illness, and jails and prisons are struggling to provide for inmates with severe mental health needs.

Los Angeles County is exploring building a new jail specifically to house and provide treatment for mentally ill inmates. The proposal is estimated to cost more than $1 billion. By one estimate, there are about 2.1 million annual jail bookings nationwide of persons with serious mental illnesses. That number swells when you count state and federal prisons. At one time, huge state hospitals housed the mentally ill. When they closed in the 1970s, community-based care was supposed to step in. Instead, with fewer options, the mentally ill were released to the streets, where they often got into trouble. Jails must take mentally ill offenders in, but they can’t force medication.

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