The U.S. has been “wildly erratic in our approach to deviance, mental health and the prison,” says University of Chicago law Prof. Bernard Harcourt. In the New York Times, Harcourt cites a recent U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics study finding that 56 percent of state prison inmates and 64 percent of local jail prisoners reported mental health problems within the past year. (The statistics are stated incorrectly in the Times article).
Says Harcourt: “Over the past 40 years, the United States dismantled a colossal mental health complex and rebuilt – bed by bed – an enormous prison. During the 20th century we exhibited a schizophrenic relationship to deviance.” He asks, “Have both prisons and mental hospitals included large numbers of unnecessarily incarcerated individuals?” Harcourt concludes, “It is time to rethink our prison and mental health policies.”