Scandal in the shadows

There’s a famous qoute about judging a country on how it treats its prisoners. If that’s so, we flunk. Yesterday the Justice Department released a report from its Bureau of Justice Statistics that indicates that more than half of American inmates show symptoms of mental illnes but less than one-third actually get treatment.

Based on a survey of nationally representative samples, the statistics bureau estimated that 56 percent of the nation’s 1.25 million state prisoners, 64 percent of its 747,000 jail inmates and 45 percent of its 156,000 federal prisoners reported treatment for or symptoms of major depression, mania or psychotic disorders such as hallucinations or delusions in the last year.

Treatment behind bars was most common among state prisoners — 34 percent of those reporting symptoms, compared with 24 percent of the troubled federal prisoners and 17 percent of jail inmates with problems. The most common treatment was a prescribed medication, for 27 percent of state, 19 percent of federal and 15 percent of jail inmates with problems.

The Associated Press article includes insights from Jeffrey Beard, PA’s secretary of corrections.

“As a society, we could do a better job dealing with the mentally ill — both in keeping people from coming to prison and how they do when they get out of prison,” said Jeffrey Beard, Pennsylvania’s secretary of corrections.

He said Pennsylvania has set up community correction centers to get mentally ill inmates out into the world. He said there has been additional money in the past few years at the federal and state level for such projects, “but we could move a little quicker.”

Here’s one of those ACLU education moments: The organization’s National Prison Project is the only national litigation program on behalf of prisoners. Check out the NPP’s webpage for more info, including a recently-released, horrifying report about what happened to prisoners during Hurricane Katrina.

Andy in Harrisburg