Longmont Times Call
While state legislators deal with a long list of critical budget concerns, a quiet storm is brewing that eventually will present a problem that cannot be ignored. The percentage of jail and prison inmates with mental illness is where it stood in the mid-1800s, is higher than at any point in the 20th century, and is trending upward.
The disturbing trend is happening in Boulder County, presenting a challenge for jail staff and danger to those inmates who would be better served in hospitals.
As recently as last week, more than 23 percent of the inmates in the Boulder County Jail were diagnosed with mental illness. Between 32 percent and 36 percent were taking psychotropic medications.
As noted in a Times-Call article on the problem, that figure was 7 percent just 20 years ago.
According to a National Sheriffs’ Association report released in 2010, a mentally ill person in Colorado is four times as likely to be in jail or prison as he is to be hospitalized.
The problem is such that at the 2007 conference of the County Sheriffs of Colorado, sheriffs agreed that “coping with the challenges posed by housing mentally ill inmates is the top problem facing sheriff’s offices statewide,” the report quoted one sheriff as saying.
The jail staff in Boulder strives mightily to serve the needs of the mentally ill but is not as well-equipped as hospitals that specialize in their treatment. Some of these inmates have to be segregated from other prisoners, and they present a special danger to themselves, as they are more likely to commit suicide than other inmates. They also are more likely to fall victim to others.
Finally, these inmates are more likely to return to the system because of their inability to live independently, falling into a loop of incarceration-release-incarceration.
In regard to the imprisonment of the mentally ill, the United States has regressed to a state not seen in 150 years. This is a system that endangers lives while stressing the budgets of local governments, and it demands that in Colorado, and nationwide, lawmakers direct resources to facilities and people who are equipped to handle the needs of the mentally ill. Otherwise, they will have another dire problem on their hands.
Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?
Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.
If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.
Thursday, February 03, 2011
Longmont Times Call