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Congress Must Aid in Funding for Treatment of the Mentally Ill in Prison

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Essay title: Congress Must Aid in Funding for Treatment of the Mentally Ill in Prison

In August 2005, John Hyde went on a shooting spree in Albuquerque, New Mexico. When the shooting ceased, he had killed a total of five people; including a state transportation worker, two teenage motorcyclists, and two Albuquerque police officers. When arrested, the 48-year-old was found to have suffered from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder for fifteen years. During this time he was in and out of prison, mainly for misdemeanors. Hyde’s mother blamed the New Mexico authorities for her son’s rampage. She says she had pleaded for their help to treat Hyde when he was being cycled in and out of prison, but claims that her pleas were never met, and her son only became worse (Shephard A1). Perhaps the most upsetting part of Hyde’s outburst is the fact that it could have been prevented. There is a bill being considered by the United States Senate and House of Representatives that could have helped Hyde in his struggle with mental illness long before he committed the murders. Introduced by Congressman Ted Strickland (D-OH) and Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH), the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act (MIOTCRA) would sanction grants to communities for the creation and maintenance of a variety of programs for the mentally ill in and out of prison. Since U.S. communities are currently unable to provide the financial means necessary to offer mentally ill inmates adequate rehabilitative treatment, The United States Congress must ratify the MIOTCRA to fund programs that would fulfill their medical needs while in prison and society.

One of the main problems associated with the mentally ill in prison is the staggering percentage of ailing inmates. A 1998 study indicated that about five percent of the general population suffers from mental illness. Compare this figure to the nearly nineteen percent of inmates who are mentally ill when incarcerated, and an additional fifteen to twenty percent of inmates who will require psychiatric counseling during their sentence, and one can see the seriousness of the issue within the prison system (Metzner 211). A study completed in 2000 by the American Psychiatric Association estimated that as many as one in five inmates suffer from mental illness (i. XIX). However the most recent and disturbing report came from the National Commission on Correctional Health Care in March 2002:

“On any given day, between 2.3 and 3.9 percent of inmates in State prisons are estimated to have schizophrenia or other psychotic disorder, between 13.1 and 18.6 percent with major depression, and between 2.1 and 4.3 percent with bipolar disorder. A substantial percentage of inmates exhibit symptoms of other disorders as well, including between 8.4 and 13.4 percent with dysthymia, between 22.0 and 30.1 percent with an anxiety disorder, and between 6.2 and 11.7 percent with post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Many proponents of the MIOTCRA argue that, should the act be passed, these overwhelming numbers can be greatly reduced by using funds to create diversion programs for those committing misdemeanors and other minor crimes of survival. Diversion programs, such as mental health courts and outpatient care, are intended to keep the mentally ill out of prison by identifying their sickness prior to incarceration, and providing adequate care accordingly. Outpatient care alleviates prison overcrowding and provides offenders with treatment at a lower cost to taxpayers. It costs an estimated eight to ten dollars a day for the inmate to participate in a diversion program, and nearly seventy two dollars per day to house them in prison (Stewart A1). A program was recently established in Kennebec County, Maine, offering mentally ill offenders an alternative to treatment rather than incarceration. It was made possible by a $450,000 grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Justice specifically for the purpose of founding an outpatient alternative to incarceration for the mentally ill (Harrison B1). The diversion program has proven successful. It was determined that those who participated “were more likely to succeed in their mental health treatment plan and half as likely to return to jail than other defendants who did not” (“Treatment”).

Diversion programs are the ideal starting point for the mentally ill, but there are some offenders that already are, or legitimately should be, incarcerated. By establishing treatment programs for those in prison, the community may begin to rehabilitate mentally ill individuals in hopes that they may one day become productive members of society. In order for these rehabilitative measures to be possible, the MIOTCRA must be enacted to alleviate the financial strain that causes the understaffing of prison mental health personnel. Examples of prison healthcare worker understaffing are frequent.

In December 2005, David and Patricia Ashley of Williamson County, Texas filed a federal suit against the district. The Ashley’s

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