350,000 is a conservative estimate for the number of offenders with mental illness confined in U.S. prisons and jails, NPR reports. More Americans receive mental health treatment in prisons and jails than in hospitals or treatment centers. The three largest inpatient psychiatric facilities in the country are jails: Los Angeles County Jail, Rikers Island Jail in New York City, and Chicago’s Cook County Jail .
“We have a criminal justice system which has a very clear purpose: You get arrested. We want justice. We try you, and justice hopefully prevails. It was never built to handle people that were very, very ill, at least with mental illness,” says Judge Steve Leifman. The system is costly. The University of South Florida found that the highest users of criminal justice and mental health services in Miami-Dade County were 97 people, individuals diagnosed primarily with schizophrenia. “Over a five-year period, these 97 individuals were arrested almost 2,200 times and spent 27,000 days in the Miami-Dade Jail,” Leifman says. “It cost the taxpayers $13 million.”