America’s lockups are its new asylums, says the Wall Street Journal. After scores of state mental institutions were closed beginning in the 1970s, few alternatives materialized. Many of the afflicted wound up on the streets, where, untreated, they became more vulnerable to joblessness, drug abuse and crime. The country’s three biggest jail systems—in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York—have more than 11,000 prisoners under treatment on any given day. They represent by far the largest mental-health treatment facilities in the country.
By comparison, the three largest state-run mental hospitals have a combined 4,000 beds. Put another way, the number of mentally ill prisoners the three facilities handle daily is equal to 28 percent of all beds in the nation’s 213 state psychiatric hospitals. In a survey of how states deal with this “explosive societal issue,” the Journal found mental-health patient ratios ranged from one in 10 inmates to one in two. Inmates in all 23 responding states account for 55% of the prisoners in the U.S. under state jurisdiction.