The New Yorker: June 20, 2016

Abusing the System

According to the latest Bureau of Justice Statistics estimate, fifty-six per cent of inmates in state prisons and forty-five per cent of inmates in federal prisons have mental-health disabilities. But Press’s disturbing story (The New Yorker, “Madness”, May 2, 2016) makes it clear that jail is never an appropriate place to “treat” mental illness, especially when such treatment is solitary confinement and other forms of abuse. And yet, as a nation, we fail to fund and provide significant community-based mental-health services for people at risk of incarceration and for prisoners who have been released and are reëntering society.

This is particularly shameful because we know which services work: there is a broad consensus among mental-health experts that programs like Assertive Community Treatment (ACT), supportive housing, intensive case management, peer support, and mental-health-crisis services help keep people with mental illness out of the criminal-justice system.

Emily B. Read
Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law
Washington, D.C.