Huffpost Politics
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

DJ Jaffe Headshot

New Report: It's Now a Crime to be Mentally Ill

Posted: Updated:

A report in today's USA Today by the nation's most reputable mental illness researcher, Dr. E. Fuller Torrey shows that in the United States, you are now more likely to be jailed for having a serious mental illness than treated for it.

Using the most recently available data the study by the Treatment Advocacy Center found

• In the United States there are now more than three times more seriously mentally ill persons in jails and prisons than in hospitals.

• In 1955 there was one psychiatric bed for every 300 Americans. In 2005 there was one psychiatric bed for every 3,000 Americans.

• We have now returned to the conditions of the 1840s by putting large numbers of mentally ill persons back into jails and prisons.

Many people are surprised by this, given how much money is spent on mental illness. But what most people don't know, is that most of that money is spent on mental "health" not illness. In fact, mental health commissioner's go to great lengths to rid their departments of the seriously mentally ill. They'd much rather serve the worried well.

Take New York for example. The state Office of Mental Health (OMH) proudly claims they "serve" 650,000 individuals with a wide range of issues including not doing well in school, having trouble in relationships, needing more affordable housing, needing a job, and on and on.

And on.

Now let's turn to the seriously mentally ill: the psychotic untreated individuals with schizophrenia the Office of Mental Health was originally founded to serve. The ones you often see eating out of garbage cans and arguing with voices audible only to them.

According to "The shortage of hospital beds" report NYS is short 4,311 hospital beds for the seriously mentally ill, so inpatient care is not likely to happen. (Anyone want an idea what to do with St. Vincents?)

What about outpatient care? Because New York State OMH serves so few of the seriously ill, in 1999 the legislature adopted Kendra's Law which not only allows courts to involuntarily commit potentially violent patients to receiving care, it involuntarily commits mental health departments to providing it. Not surprisingly OMH has called for Kendra's Law to come to an end and proposed a bill to do just that.

In the interim, they're doing what they can. In the last 12 months, courts have involuntarily committed the system to provide mandatory treatment to 3060 seriously mentally ill individuals who have a history of violence or recidivism. No problem. OMH simply let the court orders expire on at least 1150 (37%) of them. Jail or prison is the likely next stop. One less severely mentally ill person for OMH to have to serve.

According to the study in USA Today:

Marcy State Psychiatric Hospital was shut down many years ago and turned over to the State Department of Corrections to become the Marcy Correctional Facility. Then, in December 2009, it was announced that the Marcy Correctional Facility would open a 100-bed Residential Mental Health Unit for inmates with serious mental illness.

In other words, NYS turned a hospital into a jail and then loaded it up with mentally ill individuals who had been kicked out of the hospital.

In his press release the New York State Office of Mental Health Commissioner Michael Hogan took credit for this sad state of affairs. He lauded the special unit as "a collaborative and innovative approach that to our knowledge is the first of its kind anywhere." And Governor David Paterson said: "This cutting-edge program represents government at its best."

Oh God.

Roy Neville wrote about this for the Schenectady Alliance on Mental Illness

The mentally ill shouldn't be in there at all. It's the remorseless tone of the state press release that gets you down

. Roy's not the only one who thinks so.

In Niagara County, Sheriff Thomas Beilein estimated that 25 percent of jail inmates "have some sort of mental problem." Beilein added: "They've closed the mental hospitals and pushed those people into the jails. It's appalling that they are here".

New York's Riker's Island Jail, is the largest psychiatric hospital in the state. The average stay for all inmates is 42 days; for mentally ill inmates, it is 215 days.

Jailing the mentally ill in New York has gotten so bad, that Michael Biasotti, Vice President of the NYS Chiefs of Police Association--who also happens to have a family member with mental illness--wrote an op-ed that said

When (Kendra's Law) is discussed in Albany, I hope our legislators will invite the police, sheriffs, district attorneys, and correctional officials who now deal more with severely mentally ill persons than OMH does.

Hopefully, the legislature will take steps to reverse the jailing of the mentally ill in NYS. Dr. Torrey's recommendation is to make Kendra's Law permanent based on the finding that it reduces incarceration 87%. There is hope. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver wrote powerfully on this issue in 1999. And Assemblywoman Gunther and State Senator Young recently introduced bills that would do just that.

But can they have to do it before OMH interferes.

Register To Vote