Time magazine has an article on attempts to train law enforcement to prevent people with mental illness from needlessly ending up in behind bars. It includes some startling information, like the fact that more Americans receive mental health care in prisons than in hospitals.
“If you think health care in America is bad, you should look at mental health care,” says Steve Leifman, who works as a special advisor on criminal justice and mental health for the Florida Supreme Court. More Americans receive mental health treatment in prisons and jails than hospitals or treatment centers.
In fact, the country’s largest psychiatric facility isn’t even a hospital, it’s a prison ‚Äî New York City’s Rikers Island, which holds an estimated 3,000 mentally ill inmates at any given time. Fifty years ago, the U.S. had nearly 600,000 state hospital beds for people suffering from mental illness. Today, because of federal and state funding cuts, that number has dwindled to 40,000. When the government began closing state-run hospitals in the 1980s, people suffering from mental illness had nowhere to go. Without proper treatment and care, many ended up in the last place anyone wants to be.
The article starts with a telling correction of a journalistic slip, apologising for stating that one reform was inspired when a man with schizophrenia shot a policeman, when in fact, it was the policeman who shot the patient.
A 1999 US survey found that over 60% of people thought that someone with schizophrenia is ‘somewhat’ or ‘very likely’ to commit an act of interpersonal violence, when we know that people diagnosed with the condition are much more likely to be the victim of violence than the perpetrator.
It seems there are some positive developments, however, and the article describes the Miami Police’s innovative and successful methods of including people with experience of mental disorder in their training, and when dealing with distressed people they encounter.