Tuesday, June 05, 2007

An overloaded criminal justice system

A news article in the Eagle Tribune in Massachusetts describes the current situation in the Rockingham County Jail in which an estimated 15 percent of the jail population has a severe mental illness. Jail superintendent Al Wright says it feels like he’s running a psychiatric ward rather than a forensic facility. “I tell people I’m the superintendent of Rockingham County jail, the biggest provider of services for the mentally ill in the county.”

The article continues:
Also, there is a shortage of psychiatric beds at the state hospital — down from 3,000 beds in the 1960s to 300 today. This leaves police little choice but to transport mentally ill suspects to jail.
There is no doubt the criminal justice system is overloaded with patients who should have received psychiatric treatment long before they landed in jail.

Ken Braiterman, coordinator with the National Alliance for Mental Illness in New Hampshire, hit the nail on the head when he said:

Treatment has never been better for mental illness, but it has never been harder or those in need to get it.

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