Lockups are becoming the ‘new asylums’
LEXINGTON, Ky. (Sept. 26, 2013) – Almost a fourth of the inmates in Kentucky’s prisons and jails have a mental health issue, and it is part of a growing national problem.
“America’s lockups are its new asylums,” Gary Fields and Erica Phillips repored for 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 reporters quote Esteban Gonzalez, president of the American Jail Association, a lobby for jail employees: “In every city and state I have visited, the jails have become the de facto mental institutions.”
Of the 22 states that responded in detail to the reporters’ survey, which as a whole have most of the nation’s prisoners, “their mental-health patient ratios ranged from one in 10 inmates to one in two,” the ratio reported in Oregon and Iowa.
Of Kentucky’s 12,300 prisoners, 24 percent have a mental-health issue, according to information the reporters received from the state Department of Corrections.
The situation is a return to the times of a century or more ago, when knowledge of mental illness was rudimentary at best and the mentally ill often would up behind bars. State-run mental institutions were developed, but gave way to community-based treatment. “The weaknesses of that concept – a lack of facilities, barriers created by privacy laws and tightened local and state funding – has brought the picture full circle,” the Journal reports.
Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.