Methods, Definitions, and Results
Half a century ago, in 1964, there were slightly fewer than 500,000 individuals with serious mental illnesses in the state psychiatric hospitals. The first effective antipsychotic and antidepressant medications had been discovered a few years earlier, and therefore most of these individuals were receiving treatment for the first time.
Now, 50 years later, there are approximately 35,000 individuals with serious mental illnesses remaining in the state psychiatric hospitals. The majority of these individuals are there because they have committed a crime and been court-ordered to the hospital as forensic patients.
Where did the other patients who were in the state psychiatric hospitals in 1964 go? Some of them are living in their own homes, in board-and-care homes, or in nursing homes. Others are living on the streets or in public shelters. A large number are in prisons and jails, charged with misdemeanor or felony offenses, many of which are a direct consequence of their untreated mental illness. They are one reason, along with the drug laws and mandatory sentencing, that most prisons and jails are overcrowded.
The present survey was undertaken to ascertain the current situation regarding individuals with serious mental illness in the prisons and jails of each state.