North Carolina's county jails hold thousands of mentally ill inmates, some waiting for weeks or months to be evaluated or treated, says the Raleigh News & Observer. This is not just a problem in North Carolina. Over several decades across the U.S., patients who were phased out of large institutions so they could be treated in their communities found there wasn't enough help. Without treatment, many ran afoul of the law and then tumbled into a nightmare of compounding problems.
Nationally, studies estimate between 15 and 20 percent of jail and prison inmates have a serious mental illness. In North Carolina, that translates to roughly 5,500 in prison and an estimated 3,400 people languishing in jails that were built to hold those charged with crimes for only a short time, all of them with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other illnesses. The state has 850 beds in its mental hospitals.”This has become a very, very common occurrence,” said Adam Adams, a psychotherapist who evaluates jail inmates in Wake County. “They sit in jail for months, sometimes on a very minor offense. Jail has become the largest mental institution in the state.”