You are on page 1of 9

Henzie 1

Caitlin Henzie
Mr. Rogers
Government 3
18 October 2016
Mock Congress Research Paper: Prison Reform
In Americas prison system we believe that those who are incarcerated in federal prisons
are the worst of the worst because they have committed unforgivable crimes, but in reality some
of these people commit these crimes because they are mentally ill. The mental illness in these
prisoners goes undiagnosed in many cases because when they are arrested there is no indication
of how mentally unstable they are. A way that our federal prison system can fix this high rate of
mentally ill people in prisons is by instituting a mental health exam and a psychiatric wing in all
federal prisons excluding private prisons. They need to institute these wings in prisons because
although they committed the crime due mostly to their mental illness they still need to serve time
for what they did. However, many people opposing the idea of treating the mentally ill by
incarcerating them will state that it is a waste of the peoples money, and that we should be more
concerned about their mental health than the punishment that they are getting. Americas prison
system needs to have a mental health exam upon conviction and a mental health wing must be
instituted in all prisons because a large portion of a prisons general population has some form of
mental illness, police are more likely to arrest a person with a mental illness, and the people in a
prisons general population who have a mental illness are not getting the correct treatment.
In Americas federal prisons when walking into the general population youd expect to
see mentally healthy people, but in reality a large portion of these people have some form of
mental illness. According to Steadman, 14.5% of all male inmates and 31% of female inmates

Henzie 2
could be considered seriously mentally ill (Steadman, et al. Prevalence of serious mental illness
among inmates). While this statistic shows that many people in prison are seriously mentally ill,
it doesnt include minor mental illness. This means that the number of prisoners suffering from
some type of mental illness is actually much higher. Although most people believe that if it isnt
serious then it isnt worth treating, in reality, according to James and others, 78,800 inmates in
federal prisons have some form of mental illness (James, et al, Mental Health Problems of
Prison and Jail inmates). This number may not be in the millions or even hundreds of
thousands, but it is still large enough of a number to show that there is a problem of mentally ill
people in prison. The biggest reason that there are so many inmates in general population is
because our country doesnt consider mental illness, including addiction, as a medical condition
(Rich, et al. 364.22). The way our country treats mental illness at the moment is unacceptable
because people think that because the symptoms arent usually visible then it is not something to
be concerned about. Although the fact that a high number of people in prisons are mentally, ill
the real reason they are in prisons in the first place is because they get arrested more frequently.
A major contributing factor to the large amount of mentally ill inmates in federal prisons
is that those who have mental illnesses are more likely to commit crimes. In fact, George states
that the police are twice as likely to arrest someone with a mental illness (George, et al. 1). This
will most likely mean that instead of being placed in a mental health institution they will be put
into the criminal justice system. This is unfair because the people who deserve to be in mental
health institutions commit their crimes no matter how horrible because they cant think straight.
According to Paula M. Ditton inmates that are incarcerated for violent offences are more likely
to have mental disorders (Ditton, "Special report: Mental health and treatment of inmates and
probationers"). This means that those who are in prison for some heinous crimes probably

Henzie 3
deserve to be in a mental institution or at least treated for their mental illness; not treating these
people is also inhumane because we are leaving them to suffer to their own methods of coping
with this mental illness. Also, the police are more likely to rearrest released prisoners who have
committed another crime because they are less likely to get into a mental health treatment
program due to their criminal record (Aufderheide, Mental Illness In America's Jails And
Prisons: Toward A Public Safety/Public Health Model). This shows the increased need for
treatment while the mentally ill are in prison because once they are no longer in prison it is
harder for them to receive treatment especially if they were homeless before their incarceration.
The reality of this is that the mentally ill are more likely to be arrested by the police, but the
reason they are getting arrested is because they arent getting the correct treatment for their
mental illness in and out of the federal prison system.
A big issue that the mentally ill are facing in the prison system is that they arent getting
the correct treatment or any treatment at all. In general most inmates with a mental illness in
federal prisons are ignored by the staff, but those that do receive treatment do not receive the
correct treatment for their disorder (Kupers, et al. 9-10). This shows that we need to place more
emphasis on the prevalence and treatment of mental illness because of the poor or lack of
treatment that many of these prisoners are getting is worsening their mental health, and causing
bigger issues within the prisons. According to the U.S. department of Justice prisoners with
mental illnesses tend to have more issues with discipline and behavior (U.S. Department of
Justice. 1). The increased disciplinary issues that come from the mentally ill in the prisons can be
easily fixed by instituting regular mental health exams and requiring treatment specific for each
prisoner and their mental illness. Also, federal prisons in the United States do not have nearly
enough resources to fix the mental health epidemic in prisons, so prisons need to institute mental

Henzie 4
health wings specific to those with mental health conditions. In fact only one out of every eight
prisoners with a mental illness attend therapy or counseling to deal with their mental illness
(Beck and Maruschak, "Mental Health Treatment in State Prisons, 2000"). This means that only a
small percentage of mentally ill people get to have a very weak form of treatment because in
most cases of mental illness these prisoners will need medication that can only be prescribed by a
doctor or psychiatrist to effectively treat their mental illness. Our countrys prison system is so
poor at treating mental illness that we dont give the prisoners the treatment they as citizens
deserve. In fact, many prisoners in the system turn to alternate ways of getting drugs to cope with
their heightened mental illness due to the increased risk of being isolated (Nurse, et al. 2). These
prisoners are more likely to be placed in solitary confinement because they are so mentally
unstable already that the stress of being incarcerated increases their mental illness. Many
prisoners react to the stress of being incarcerated in addition to their mental illness by having a
psychotic break. On a daily basis out of the two to three hundred thousand inmates with mental
disorders around seventy thousand could have a psychotic episode on any given day
(Ambramsky, Ill-equipped: US prisons and offenders with mental illness). This is one of the
many reasons we need to institute mental health exams and mental health units, but some people
believe that we shouldnt be helping these people.
Many people disagree that mental illness should be treated in prison, believing that
psychiatric facilities offer more affordable and effective treatment. In our criminal justice system
once you get convicted, you are generally either placed in jail or prison. Instead of placing the
mentally ill in prisons, where they will serve their time for the crimes they commit, some people
believe we should be putting them in psychiatric hospitals. As stated by Jamie Fellner, There are
three times as many mentally ill in U.S. prisons as in the country's mental health hospitals,

Henzie 5
suffering from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression, among other illnesses.
(Fellner, Prisons No Place For the Mentally Ill). This shows that too many people are being
placed in prisons instead of mental institutions, which means that this country is more concerned
with the punishment that these individuals are getting than their treatment. When treating the
mentally ill in prisons, people believe it uses more of the governments money and costs the
people more in taxes because they are paying for medical staff that could be eliminated if these
prisoners were just placed in mental institutions. The Stanford Three Strikes Project states
placing criminals with mental health issues in mental institutions is more cost effective than
incarcerating these criminals (Three Strikes Project. 4). This is why many people believe that we
should put mental health treatment before punishment no matter what the crime.
In conclusion, when convicted, prisoners should be given a mandatory mental health
exam, and, if necessary, provided with appropriate care while serving their sentence because a
large portion of felons have mental illnesses, police are more likely to arrest the mentally ill, and
the mentally ill are not getting adequate treatment in prisons. Determining the mental health of
prisoners and providing effective care represents a significant investment, however, addressing
these issues will result in more manageable prisoners and lower recidivism, a significant cost
saver. The large number of mentally ill prisoners does not allow for prisoners to be treated in
psychiatric facilities before serving their sentence, but if the purpose of prison is to punish and
rehabilitate, it is essential that the system addresses the very real problem of mental health as part
of a custodial sentence. The next time you hear about a mentally ill prisoner being placed in
general population without treatment remember that although they may have committed a
terrible crime, they deserve to be treated humanely. Write to congress and take action.

Henzie 6

Works Cited
Abramsky, Sasha. Ill-equipped: US prisons and offenders with mental illness. Human Rights
Watch, 2003. Web, 10 Oct. 2016.
Accessed 10 Oct. 2016.
Aufderheide, Dean. "Mental Illness In America's Jails And Prisons: Toward A Public Safety/
Public Health Model." Health Affairs. Health Affairs, 1 Apr. 2014. Web,


Henzie 7
Accessed 17 Oct. 2016.
Beck, Allen J., and Laura Maruschak M. "Mental Health Treatment in State Prisons, 2000."
PsycEXTRA Dataset (2001): 1+. US Department of Justice, July 2001. Web,
Accessed 18 Sept. 2016.
Birmingham, Luke, Debbie Mason, and Don Grubin. "Prevalence of mental disorder in
remand prisoners: consecutive case study." BMj 313.7071 (1996): 1521-1524. Web,
Accessed 10 Oct. 2016.
Ditton, Paula M. "Special report: Mental health and treatment of inmates and probationers."
Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics (2000).


Accessed 10 Oct. 2016

Fellner, Jamie. "Prisons No Place For the Mentally Ill." Human Rights Watch. The San Diego
Union-Tribune, 28 July 2015. Web, <


Accessed 17 Oct. 2016.

George, Jeff, and Thomas Hafemeister L. "The Ninth Circle of Hell: An Eighth Amendment
Analysis of Imposing Prolonged Supermax Solitary Confinement on Inmates with

Mental Illness." By Thomas L. Hafemeister, Jeff George. Denver

University Law, 2 Apr.

Accessed 18 Sept. 2016.

2013. Web, <

Henzie 8
James, Doris J., and Lauren Glaze E. "Mental Health Problems of Prison and Jail Inmates."
PsycEXTRA Dataset (n.d.): n. pag. 14 Dec. 2006. Web, 08 Sept. 2016.
Accessed 08 Sept. 2016.
Justice, U.S. Department Of. "Mental Health Screens for Corrections." 01-RFP Covers
LaBodega_comp1 (2007): 1. National Institute of Justice, May 2007. Web, 08
Sept. 2016.


Accessed 08 Sept. 2016.

Kupers, Terry Allen. "The Mentally Ill Behind Bars." Prison Madness: The Mental Health
Crisis behind Bars and What We Must Do about It. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1999. 910. Print.

Project, Three Strikes. When Did Prisons Become Acceptable Mental Healthcare Facilities?
(n.d.): 4. Stanford Law School. Darrell Steinberg. Web, <>.
Accessed 17 Oct. 2016
Nurse, Jo, Paul Woodcock, and Jim Ormsby. "Influence of environmental factors on mental
health within prisons: focus group study." Bmj 327.7413 (2003): 480. Web, <


Accessed 06 Oct. 2016.

Henzie 9
Steadman, HJ, FC Osher, PC Robbins, B. Case, and S. Samuel. "Prevalence of Serious Mental
Illness among Jail Inmates." National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S.
National Library of Medicine, June 2009. Web, <
Accessed 25 Oct. 2016.