More than half the nation’s jail and prison inmates suffer from mental health problems, says the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics in a study reported by the Los Angeles Times. Based on a representative survey of more than 25,000 prisoners nationwide, the report found that mental health problems were associated with an inmate’s violence and prior convictions. State prisoners with mental problems were more likely to have had at least three prior incarcerations and to have broken prison rules.
Mentally ill inmates were twice as likely as other convicts to have been injured in a prison fight, and substantially more likely to have been abused as a child and homeless in the year before their arrest. Mental health experts said the study illustrated a direct relationship between gaps in community mental health care and the large numbers of mentally ill people winding up in the criminal justice system. “The nonviolent mentally ill should not be in county jails,” Colleen Landkamer of Blue Earth County, Mn., president of the National Association of Counties. “It is extremely costly for counties and taxpayers and county jails are not the appropriate place for those who need mental health services to receive them.”