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Increasing Number Of Mentally Ill Prisoners In California


May 14, 2017

There has been a longstanding problem of rampant mental illness among inmates in California’s prison system. Stanford Law School’s Justice Advocacy Project carried out studies on the problem of mental illness among prison inmates in California in 2017. They utilized data provided by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in their studies and concluded that the problem is worsening as time passes by. According to these studies, in 2000, less than 15% of California’s prisoners had received treatment for a mental disorders and that number currently exceeds 30%.  Over the last 5 years dramatic increases have occurred in mental disorders such as schizophrenia, psychotic disorder or bipolar disorder. Ironically, recent criminal justice reforms may be one of the driving forces behind this increase in mentally ill prisoners.

The Public Safety Realignment Act and the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act are reforms directed to reduce prison populations by rewarding good behavior in prison with early release. However, for mentally ill prisoners, prison conditions often exacerbate their illness thereby causing the prisoner’s condition to deteriorate even further. Conditions in California prisons serve to worsen mental illnesses and cause the development of overt symptoms. Mentally ill prisoners may attempt suicide, have a psychotic episode or lash out at other inmates  all of which result in conduct violations and sanctions meaning a loss of custody credits that reduce the time the prisoner has to serve in incarceration.

Another problem in this regard is that the CDCR has a shortage of psychiatric staffing. The new state budget has earmarked $117 million to address mental health programs and services for mentally ill prisoners. However certain lawmakers believe more money is not the answer. They are pushing for reforms that would keep the mentally ill out of the prison system altogether. This proposed legislation requires the courts to consider a defendant’s mental illness in sentencing and allow the courts discretion to order some defendants to treatment instead of incarceration. It has also been proposed that mental health professions, law enforcement, social workers, and the courts work together to address this growing problem. Certain lawmakers have also cited the Dutch model as a better solution. In Holland, mentally ill prisoners are streamlined into facilities that are separate from the general prison population.

Dutch law allows a person to be judged responsible for a crime on a sliding scale of sorts where people adjudged to be least culpable for a crime are those whose mental illness played a role in their crime.  The important point is that mentally ill prisoners are placed in separate prison facilities where the system addresses the conduct of mentally ill prisoners separately from other prisoners. It is important to keep in mind the fact that mentally ill prisoners are the most vulnerable in a general prison population. The Dutch approach allows the mentally ill prisoner to be better protected from harm inflicted by other prisoners and from themselves. All mentally ill prisoners in Holland receive psychiatric care. The Dutch system is a pragmatic and successful way of reducing reoffending of high-risk offenders.

The exponential rise of a mentally ill prison population is a problem society must address. Failure to do so means risking an ever-increasing criminal class of incarcerated individuals that commit crimes not intentionally but due to mental illness. Criminal defense attorney Doug Miranda is a strong advocate for his clients who defends individuals being prosecuted by the state for alleged crimes. Contact him if you have any sort of criminal issue with law enforcement agencies in California.

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About the Author

At the Law Offices of Top Gun DUI Defense Attorney Myles L. Berman, our experienced team of DUI / Drunk Driving defense lawyers are dedicated to aggressively defending people arrested for DUI.