In 2014, the federal Bureau of Prisons implemented a new policy aimed at improving the care and oversight of inmates with mental health issues. Unfortunately, despite the new initiative, the number of people who were designated for higher-level treatment has decreased by over 35 percent.
In February 2018 Bureau of Prisons reported that only 3 percent of its inmates have serious mental health issues that require regular treatment. This is significantly less than the figure in California, where over 30 percent of the prison population has serious mental health issues. In New York, 21 percent of the inmates have mental health issues.
The agency said it is working on a strategy to analyze the drop in mental-health care provided by its facilities. Although only a tiny portion of its inmates are determined to have serious mental health issues that require regular treatment, 23 percent of them have been diagnosed with such conditions.
According to data, the number of people receiving mental-health care has significantly decreased in different facilities. For instance, since May 2014, the number of people receiving regular treatment has dropped by over 80 percent at a high-security prison near Hazelton.
Due to the lack of mental health care in prisons, the Bureau of Prisons has had to force some counselors to work as corrections officers. This issue became worse under the Trump administration, as the hiring freeze prevented the agency from adequately staffing its facilities. In 2016, the Bureau of Prisons told its officials to stop using psychologists for various tasks, except in emergencies. Despite this, reports have shown that case managers and counselors are still being asked to perform odd jobs.
According to the current policy, inmates are required to receive at least one monthly or even weekly visit from a mental health professional. They are also regularly monitored by a team that reviews their progress and treatment plans. Before 2014, this policy was not in place, and mental-health staff members were not required to check in regularly with inmates.
The agency noted that the changes in the policy had led to an increase in the number of people being downgraded. It attributed the rise in this issue to the fact that the inmates’ mental health was becoming more stable as they were transitioning into prison. The agency also noted that certain inmates have access to psychiatric medication, which may change their level of consistent treatment.
Untreated mental health issues can contribute to the violence in prisons. Although the majority of people with mental health issues are not violent, research has shown that those with severe psychotic disorders are more prone to committing crimes. People with mental health problems can be up to 11 times more likely to be victimized than the general population.
When it comes to getting mental health treatment, it can also affect the success of an inmate’s rehabilitation. For instance, if an inmate has no mental illness, it can make it harder for them to secure disability benefits. On the other hand, those receiving high-level treatment receive more support and are more likely to find a supportive home.
Taking these issues together, it is apparent that the current level of mental health resources available to incarcerated people is insufficient. Providing access to adequate mental health services will help people improve their circumstances and reintegrate into society more effectively, decreasing recidivism and helping to make our community safer overall.