Prisons and jails have become America’s ‘new asylums’

Ana Swanson writes: In New York, a man with schizophrenia spent 13 years of a 15-year prison sentence in solitary confinement. In a Minnesota county jail, a man with schizophrenia stabbed out both of his eyes with a pencil in his cell. A study of 132 suicide attempts in a county jail in Washington found that 77 percent of them had a “chronic psychiatric problem,” compared with 15 percent among the rest of the jail population.

In a country where the mentally ill are often incarcerated instead of treated, these kinds of incidents are far too common. According to a report by the Treatment Advocacy Center, which includes the anecdotes above, American prisons and jails housed an estimated 356,268 inmates with several mental illness in 2012—on par with the population of Anchorage, Alaska, or Trenton, New Jersey. That figure is more than 10 times the number of mentally ill patients in state psychiatric hospitals in the same year—about 35,000 people.

In a speech yesterday, Hillary Clinton urged the U.S. to reduce its prison population. “It’s a stark fact that the United Stations has less than 5 percent of the world’s population, yet we have almost 25 percent of the world’s total prison population. The numbers today are much higher than they were 30, 40 years ago, despite the fact that crime is at historic lows,” she said. [Continue reading…]

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