Nearly 17 percent of people entering jail have serious mental illnesses, says a new report from the Council of State Governments and Policy Research Associates. The study of more than 20,000 new inmates found that the percentage of women with serious mental illnesses–31–is more than twice that of males, 14.5 percent. The organizations said their count was the most accurate on the subject in more than two decades. The findings, published in the journal Psychiatric Services, indicate that as many as 2 million bookings of people with serious mental illnesses may occur each year.
“Jails are rapidly becoming a core element in the mental health system,” said Art Wallenstein, Director of the Montgomery County, Md., Department of Correction and Rehabilitation. “This is unacceptable for those whose mental illness is the primary driving condition – not criminal behavior.” Congress has passed the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act (MIOTCRA), which authorizes federal grants to states and localities to deal with the problems of mental illness in the criminal justice system.