Archive for Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Shameful situation

Kansas officials need to acknowledge and try to remedy the sad lack of services for people with serious mental illness.

September 9, 2008


This can't be what state officials had in mind when they phased out the state hospitals that provided services for Kansans with serious mental illness.

The plan was that these patients would be "mainstreamed" into community facilities that would provide them a better quality of life than they had in a state hospital. Unfortunately, that plan never was sufficiently funded and community programs have been unable to cope with the volume of clients that need far more help than they can supply.

So what happens to these people? Many of them get into legal trouble and end up in jail, even prison. An Associated Press article in Sunday's Journal-World cited statistics from the Kansas Department of Corrections that indicated that nearly 9 in 10 inmates in state prisons suffer from mental illness.

Although corrections officials are trying to deal with these inmates, it isn't easy. Special seminars have been held in Lawrence and elsewhere to train law enforcement officials to better handle people with mental illness and try to keep them out of the legal system. They're not always successful. Without enough support services or the state hospitals that might help them fight their mental illness, they too often end up in jail for committing crimes that might have been avoided if they had received proper treatment.

Once they are in prison, the outlook is bleak. Prisons are intended to incarcerate criminals, not treat mental illness. The AP article describes inmates with mental illness being locked in solitary confinement for 23 hours of every day, allowed only an hour a day in an 8-foot-wide outdoor "dog run."

When they get out of prison, officials say, their mental health often is worse than when they arrived. In many cases, it doesn't take long for them to be behind bars again. It's a shameful situation for the state.

They are in prison because they committed crimes, but who knows how many of those crimes might have been prevented if people had received appropriate mental health care. How many victims might have been saved? How many tax dollars that now are being spent on prisons could have been directed to providing mental health care?

Kansas is not the only state that has taken this course, but perhaps it can be one of the first to address this problem. Kansas leaders may have thought that closing state mental hospitals would improve the lives of people with mental illness, but in far too many cases, it has made their lives - and the lives of their victims - far worse.


myvotecounts 9 years, 7 months ago

I personally suspect that this problem is much bigger than what statistics will show.

smcf66 9 years, 7 months ago

Is this article stating that it was a bad choice to close state mental hospitals? Or is it the decreased funding to help those with Severe and Persistent Mental Illness (SPMI) to live within our communities? 40 years ago people with SPMI were institutionalized for most of their lives... is this not the same as going to jail? Hasn't the shift been from locking them up in state hospitals to locking them up in jail? State hospitals are sometimes no better for this population, it's also a "holding cell." I believe the focus to integrate SPMI individuals into communities was a positive one. I don't know if it's a lack of funding, or people making decisions that weren't offered them before, that contribute to an increase in mentally ill persons in jail. Surely people know that there is a jail specifically for people with mental illness where they can receive treatment. Maybe it lies in the hands of judges to determine where a convicted criminal should be sentenced.

repaste 9 years, 7 months ago

It is exactly what they had in mind - save a buck and tough luck. It was known,and the public was warned that this would happen. It is the same mindset as in the healthcare situation - survival of the fittest (and wealthiest).

Doug Harvey 9 years, 7 months ago

Social services are an integral part of a sane society. So don't look for them to any great extent in the U.S. -- this country is run by ideologues for whom these people, who can't make the ruling class more materially wealthy, don't exist. And since a large percentage of the population has been conned by 3rd-rate hucksters with microphones, we have become a nation of consumers rather than citizens who should have an understanding of this perennial problem. And with privatized prisons, we have the profit motive defining the response to mental health and "corrections" issues and another batch of charlatans waiting for their cut of the public pie.

staff04 9 years, 7 months ago

Sounds like the same thing Reagan did in the 80's.

Chris Ogle 9 years, 7 months ago

This is so sad. Those who really need help seem to be the least likely to get help...

Bob Forer 9 years, 7 months ago

"They are safe there,,,,"No they are not. The become victims of the sociopathic predators that populate our prisons in large quantities.

Bob Forer 9 years, 7 months ago

The KU School of Social Welfare is partly to blame. They were bribed with some grants in exchange for buying into support for closure of the several mental health facilities, and implementing and touting a laughable alternative called "the strengths program."

yellowhouse 9 years, 7 months ago

If people are too crazy to survive on the streets then they go to prison.They are safe there, and its a controlled invironmentl Can't get in much trouble sitting in a 4x8 cell. Prison makes less sense if the person is a sane wonderful asset to society don't ya think?

RedwoodCoast 9 years, 7 months ago

And we continue trying to inflate a tire that has a persistent leak. We need a concerted effort as a society to tackle mental illness. It would do a lot of people a lot of good.

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