Jails across the U.S. increasingly are crowded with mentally ill inmates, yet very little training is available for the officers tasked with their care, finds a new survey by the national nonprofits Treatment Advocacy Center and Public Citizen, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The survey included responses from 230 sheriffs departments that operated jails in 39 states. Almost half of the jails reported that 2 percent or less of the initial training provided to their staff and deputies was dedicated to dealing with seriously mentally ill inmates. About 60 percent of jails said only two hours or less of annual training is provided on the topic. Still, about a third of the jails reported that 11 percent or more of their employees’ time involved handling seriously mentally ill inmates.
Throughout the years, as mental hospitals were shuttered or downsized, many severely ill patients wound up on the streets, said Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, founder of the Treatment Advocacy Center. State and local governments didn’t set up enough resources on the community level to keep people stabilized. That’s resulted in about a million seriously mentally ill people, living in communities, who would have been hospitalized 50 years ago, Torrey said. Half of those people aren’t receiving treatment, and about 200,000 of them are homeless. Some such people commit “crimes of survival, not because they are a master criminal, but because they are trying to survive on the streets,” said Tom Dart, sheriff of Cook County, Il.