Programs Seek to Expand Treatment Options For Intmates, Parolees
> 12/4/2006 12:39:25 PM

Mental illness maintains a considerable, if unsurprising, presence among our prison population. Conservative statistics estimate that 55% of current inmates suffer from one or more disorders like schizophrenia, mania or major depression. An astounding 75 percent are dependent on at least one controlled substance, and 15 percent report being homeless at some point in the year before incarceration. These numbers add up to a huge population of unstable inmates whose problems very rarely end with parole. Of course, the fact that many do not have access to appropriate treatment options either before or after release only increases the likelihood that they will return to prison.

In a related class-action suit filed by the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, mentally ill parolees sued the state of New York for access to treatment programs. While substance abuse programs are common, they usually do not include provisions for psychiatric treatment in any form. It stands to reason that one problem, if left untreated, will only contribute to the other. National groups like the Campaign for Mental Health Reform and the National Institute of Mental Health have long advocated increased funding for community-based solutions to these pressing issues, and several specifically designed pilot programs have recently started across the country. One example is New Jersey's PROMISE program, which offers stable housing and treatment options for mentally ill individuals recently released from prison.

The fact is that serious and particularly repeat offenders (sexual or otherwise) with mental illness need mandatory long-term treatment. Helping inmates and parolees on the road to recovery by allowing for easier access to medication and therapy options does not constitute the coddling of undeserving criminals. It is part of an essential investment in the future well-being of every citizen.


I understand your arguement and clearly can see the benefit of mental-health care for inmates and parolees, however, it would be a bitter pill to swallow that a rapist, mugger, depressed drug dealer would be entitled to free mental health counseling while the people they raped, mugged and addicted had to pay through the nose for it. Twice - once for themselves and once for their abuser.
Posted by: That Girl 12/5/2006 12:11:23 PM

You bring up a fair argument, because the way in which our health care system is set up sometimes makes getting adequate treatment for mental illness more difficult than it should be. For the foreseeable future, however, that probably won't change.I might propose instead that we try to think about and address this issue from another angle. Instead of viewing this treatment for convicted criminals as an added expense, it would be great to see these programs grow out of a more efficient parcelling of the money already allocated to the penal system. Without doing the necessary research, it's hard to put any kind of reasonable numbers to this idea, but let's say for the sake of argument that it costs $50,000 to house an inmate in a state prison for one year. If it is determined that this same criminal suffers from a mental health problem that has led to his or her recidivistic behaviors (there's some strong evidence to support this idea), then instead of send them back to jail, wouldn't it be better to have this person in some sort of treatment program, which ideally costs significantly less than the $50,000 incarceration. At the same time that they're receiving treatment, this person could be working, paying taxes and otherwise contributing to society in a productive manner.Obviously, improving treatment options for victims is a completely separate, but equally if not more important issue. From a macro-view perspective, victims are probably much more likely to have health coverage that would provide for care. Clearly, it isn't fair that the actions of someone else would necessitate the increased usage of coverage along with the fees that would entail. But if we can find a way to make the penal system more efficient, perhaps through programs like those in this post, it might be possible for some of the funds we've saved to go toward supporting victims of violent crimes.
Posted by: TheEditorInChief 12/5/2006 2:42:56 AM

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