Locking up people with mental illness doesn’t make everyone safer

DaShawn Carter, 25, from Staten Island, missed nearly 100 medical appointments while being held on Rikers Island. He struggled to access the mental health medication he needed and was effectively left to fend for himself. Carter committed suicide in his cell on May 7, 2022. He was held in public custody despite having a long history of mental illness and having been admitted to a mental hospital just two days before his death.

“He didn’t have a support system,” Ray Robinson, Carter’s high school friend, told The City. “He really had to rely on himself and those close to him.” did.”

This type of negligence is all too common and is a direct result of the criminal justice system often serving as a primary point of intervention for people’s mental health needs. people with HIV are more likely to come into contact with law enforcement than to receive any kind of treatment. This number is partly rooted in sales, as the number of beds in state hospitals has fallen by 94% since the 1950s. State hospitals themselves are often punitive, and in the 1960s Congress passed legislation to replace them with community mental health centers. We have not been able to fund programs such as options. Instead, funds flowed into prisons and prison systems, which are now the largest providers of mental health care in the country.

However, detention centers and prisons are not fundamentally therapeutic environments and are woefully inadequately equipped to provide these services. About three in five people with a history of mental illness do not receive treatment while incarcerated. They are also more likely to face discipline and spend three times more time in solitary confinement than her. The trauma of incarceration is exacerbated by a lack of resources for proper treatment and re-entry, creating a revolving door where people with mental health conditions cannot stabilize their lives.

This is bad policy. Mental health services available outside prisons and prisons are not only more effective than incarceration, but also more cost-effective. Failure to invest in treatment will instead take a direct toll on people’s livelihoods, while authorities are putting more and more money into prisons and prison systems that simply fail to address underlying mental health needs. We keep pouring money in. People in need of mental health are not a public safety threat. In fact, they are more likely to become victims of crime than perpetrators. Imprisoning people in need of treatment is unjust, precarious, and exposes them to the trauma of incarceration without adequate services. That is the real risk to public safety.

In Los Angeles and New York City, Vera works in local prisons to address serious mental health crises. can be reduced.

Los Angeles: Program Success Requires Investment

41% of people in the Los Angeles County prison system have mental health needs. That number he has increased 21% since 2020, part of the increase in the number of people with serious mental health conditions in county jails over his decade. The LA prison system is the largest mental health institution in the United States, and counties spend $548 a day to keep people in mental health units.

“By default, we’ve become the largest treatment facility in the country. And we’re a prison,” Tim Beravich, director of mental health care for the Los Angeles County Prison System, told WWLP. I don’t think institutions are the right place to treat someone’s mental illness.”

However, according to a RAND Corporation study, 61% of people incarcerated for mental health conditions safely divert to existing alternatives to incarceration, such as the Office of Diversion and Re-entry (ODR) housing program. can do. Prisons actually increase the chances of re-offending and trap people in need of mental health in a vicious cycle of incarceration without providing treatment. Community-based diversion programs, on the other hand, build public safety and reduce rearrest rates by meeting underlying needs. There is no public safety reason to keep people in jail instead of making sure they get the medical care they need.

The ODR housing program is very effective. It provides permanent supportive housing and intensive clinical support to people in need of serious mental health who have been accused of a crime instead of imprisonment. It recognizes that it is not linear and treats housing as a key pillar of its success. Even if a client has had other interactions with the criminal justice system, ODR will work with prosecutors and judges to get the client back into the program. Some of the program’s most successful clients required multiple opportunities to re-engage, and that sustained support ultimately helped address two of the county’s most pressing problems: homelessness and criminal justice. Address the revolving doors of the legal system. One study found that 86% of participants said he had no new felony convictions after 12 months, and 74% had stable housing after hers.

These promising results require support. But ODR is underfunded. Investing in 3,600 new mental health treatment beds, including those for ODR Housing clients, will help reduce the county’s reliance on prisons and advance Men’s Central’s goal of closing. The ODR’s success so far is that these new beds and services will reduce recidivism in Los Angeles by giving people options to stabilize their lives rather than imprison them when they need treatment. is shown. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors plans to issue a supplemental budget this September. This is a significant opportunity to invest in programs that serve as national models.

New York City: Cutting prison budgets could build more supportive housing

Rikers Island is facing a mental health crisis. In fiscal 2021, 53% of people in prison facilities had a mental health diagnosis, up from 46% the previous year. In 2021, he’s killed 16 people, and already this year he’s claimed 11 lives.

As in Los Angeles, treatment in New York City prisons is either completely inadequate or non-existent. City Department of Corrections (DOC) Despite $2.7 Billion Budget fail consistently To provide the medical care they need to those under their protection, as it leads to thousands of missed appointments each month leading to direct death. Earlier this month, a judge ruled that the city must pay more than his $200,000 to people who missed appointments while in DOC’s custody.

People with mental illness also receive punitive treatment and long-term incarceration in New York City prisons. The average length of stay for the general population on Rikers Island is 222 days. But at the DOC he was detained for more than 24 hours, and those in mental health treatment were detained an average of 357 days, or 61% longer.

The city is pushing Rikers to create a new safe mental health unit. That solution is fundamentally inadequate because the prison setting is incompatible with the treatment needed to meet mental health needs. And despite ballooning budgets, DOC has been slow to bring even this deeply troubled solution online.

Instead of pouring money into programs that continue to fail New Yorkers with mental illness, the city should invest in housing instead. New York spends an average of $556,539 per person per year to keep people locked up. In contrast, it costs just $41,833 per person per year to provide supportive housing.

Cities can and should invest in treatment services that enable people and communities to thrive and thrive for a fraction of the cost of incarceration. Mobile crisis response teams and crisis stabilization centers can provide an alternative to arrest. Supervised release, safe hospital beds and semi-safe treatment programs can provide alternative methods of detaining people on Rikers Island. Supportive housing can also provide stability for people with mental health needs to avoid involvement of the criminal justice system and hospitalization in the first place.

DaShawn Carter should still be alive today. Common sense investments in meeting mental health needs in communities rather than prisons would build safer communities across the country and reduce the failure of incarceration addiction.

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