Despite the wake-up call sounded by recent mass shootings, huge gaps remain in how Wisconsin treats people with mental illnesses who run afoul of the law, says the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Reporting. State and county officials blame a shortage of psychiatrists, growing demand for services and high medication costs. About a third of the men and two-thirds of the women in Wisconsin prisons have mental health conditions. Of the 21,700 prisoners in the state system, more than 5,000 are taking medications to treat mental illnesses.
State prison inmates are released with two weeks of pills and a four-week prescription. County jail inmates often get less than that, as little as three days of pills. They may run out before they get through the wait lists for county mental health services. Jule Cavanaugh, reentry director for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, says many inmates with mental illnesses are not getting sufficient post-incarceration care. Keisha Russell of Infallible Helping Hands in Milwaukee, an advocacy group that aids female offenders, said newly released inmates must jump through numerous hoops and may prioritize food and shelter over refilling their psychiatric medications. “A lot of times (offenders) end up going back to get drugs, and end up reoffending,” Russell said. “It's a vicious cycle that keeps going and going.”