Twelve Percent of People in North Carolina Prisons Have a Mental Illness Diagnosis
Date:  02-13-2015

State’s solution is to add more beds, not alternatives to incarceration programs that treat mental illness
It is no secret that the mentally ill make up a large number of the prison population throughout America. There are several reasons for this, none of them totally acceptable. For example, a few decades ago New York closed down one of its most notorious mental institutions because there were several instances of mentally ill patients being abused, neglected and not given treatment. While the closure was made for humane reasons, it left an untold number of people out in the streets with no place to go. A great number of the people ended up recycling through jails and prisons.

Then there is the number of veterans who suffer from untreated PTSD. The crimes they commit because their mental illness makes them act out, or because they use illegal drugs to self-medicate, leads to incarceration. Law enforcement also plays a role in the large number of mentally ill individuals behind bars. Some police officers are not trained to identify signs of mental illness, while others are aware that the person in front of them is mentally ill but their town or city does not have a mental health facility, but they do have a jail.

And of course, people with an addiction are thrown into the mix. Addiction is a disease. People who are addicted to drugs are now being recognized by many health care professionals as having a mental health issue, and we know that prisons and jails are filled with people fighting addictions. North Carolina Public Radio (NCPR) recently reported that there are approximately 4,600 people in the North Carolina criminal justice system who have been diagnosed with a mental illness. The state is scrambling to discover ways to deal with this issue. But, some of their “solutions” might draw skepticism regarding their effectiveness.

North Carolina wants to hire more employees to “manage” mentally ill people in jail and prison. The state also wants to add 72 more beds to the 144 already available to incarcerated people with a mental health diagnosis in the male facility, Central Prison. There was no mention if the state sees the need for more beds at the NC women’s prison. Nowhere in the NCPR report was there mention of the state using alternatives to incarceration programs to divert mentally ill individuals from prison and help them obtain the mental health treatment that would be more beneficial than incarceration.

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