August 17, 2007

Your jail is also your mental health center

This statement shouldn't be news for any of my regular readers. But you might want to know that it's the topic of an article in the new issue of Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, available online for a fee. The article, "Traumatized Offenders: Don't Look Now, But Your Jail's Also Your Mental Health Center," is co-authored by Philip Kinsler, Ph.D., of Dartmouth Medical School and Anna Saxman, JD, of the Office of the Defender General in Montpelier, Vermont.

Here's the abstract:

There are more than a million prison and jail inmates in the United States who have mental illness. As funding for State Hospitals has decreased, funding for needed community programs has often not kept pace. This has led to a population of homeless mentally ill, many of whom have co-occurring substance use disorders. Society's perhaps unconscious response has been to create 24-hour mental health units within prisons and jails. The authors contend that by doing so, we have 're-criminalized' mental illness. The mentally ill prisoner is most often the victim of extreme family turmoil including physical and/or sexual abuse, parental substance dependence, and parental incarceration. Prisons and jails most often do not provide services for this highly traumatized population or recognize the need for such services. The authors report on problematic aspects of mental health care in prisons, and on several attempts to establish 'trauma-aware' care within the legal system.