NY Improves Policies on Putting Mentally Ill Inmates in Solitary


New York state has led the way in implementing policies to protect troubled inmates from the trauma of solitary confinement, says ProPublica and WNYC radio. A 2007 federal court order required New York to provide inmates with “serious” mental illness more treatment while in solitary. A follow-up law enacted in 2011 all but bans such inmates from being put there altogether. Since protections were added, the number of inmates diagnosed with severe mental illness has dropped 33 percent compared with a 13 percent decrease in the state’s prison population. A larger portion of inmates flagged for mental issues are now being given more modest diagnoses, such as adjustment disorders or minor mood disorders. It’s unclear what exactly is driving the drop in “serious” diagnoses. “Whenever you draw a magic line, and somebody gets all these rights above it and none below it,” said Jack Beck of the nonprofit Correctional Association of New York, “you create an incentive to push people below.” The association was one of a coalition of organizations that called for the change in policy. The New York Office of Mental Health says the decrease reflects improvements to the screening process. Efforts to base diagnoses on firmer evidence “has resulted in somewhat fewer, but better-substantiated diagnoses” of serious mental illness, the agency says.

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