Letter: A moral issue

To the editor:

I have been, for several weeks, mulling over the proposed enlargement of our county jail. I am both full of words and at loss for words: 140 beds, 70 for criminals, 70 for the mentally ill.

Our nation’s shameful trend of incarcerating the mentally ill needs to be stopped. Their numbers are increasing as well as being more seriously ill. They have been deinstitutionalized from mental hospitals to institutional jails and prisons.

According to TACReports.org/treatment behind bars, mentally ill inmates are “often raped or otherwise victimized, disproportionally held in solitary confinement and frequently attempt suicide.”

A joint study between TAC (Treatment Advocacy Center) and the National Sheriffs Association outlines problems associated with having seriously mentally ill in jails and prisons. Jails and prisons are not structurally appropriate nor is the staff trained to care for those with mental illness. The mentally ill inmates stay longer, cost more, are often major management problems, are more likely to commit suicide and are sometimes abused

Everything costs, but this is a moral issue. Shouldn’t we be concerned about doing the right thing? Isn’t it time to move the mentally ill from jails and prisons into hospitals?

Wouldn’t building a hospital or adding a mental health unit to local non-profit hospitals be the right way to go?

Kansas was once the “go to” place for treatment of mental illness. The mental health system needs fixing. It has to start somewhere and soon. Could it be Lawrence?