Dear Next President,
I believe the way we run our prisons and our lack of resources for treating inmates with mental illness is outrageous. Inmates with mental health concerns should be treated as patients, not prisoners. As a society, we should be concerned about the wellbeing of all our members. We should have separate facilities from prisons to treat people who have been convicted and also have been diagnosed with a mental illness.
Firstly, it’s unethical not to treat inmates with obvious mental health problems. Hubert Humphrey, during his last speech stated that “the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped." We aren’t taking proper care of the inmates with mental illness when we ignore their health concerns and incarcerate them in normal prisons where they don’t receive proper care for their conditions.
Secondly, prisons should be a place for recovery, not to neglect health problems that can cause further problems after the inmate is released. By treating inmates in prisons we can prevent future crimes and insure our communities will be safer in the future. A study by the U.S. Department of Justice revealed that inmates with a mental health condition were more likely to depend or abuse substances, have difficult family situations and be homeless. They were also twice as likely to be injured in a fight since admission to a prison. A prison’s goal should be to get their inmates ready to reenter the community and contribute to the community after their release.
In the same study by the U.S. Department Justice it’s disclosed that inmates with mental health conditions were far more likely to be convicted and re enter the prison system at about 50%. Some people argue that providing mental health care to inmates would cost too much. But is any price too high to better our society and prevent future crime? Inmates would get help the first time and upon release would start contributing to the community, there wouldn’t be as many repeat offenders. So in the long run the price would actually be cheaper because taxpayers wouldn’t have to pay for inmates to stay in jail multiple times.
We clearly need to change the way we treat people with mental health conditions in prisons and get them the help they need. We as a country need to start a discussion on mental health in general and ways to treat individuals with (especially inmates) mental health issues. This would benefit all of us by making our streets safer and saving us money in the long run. It is in all of our interests to get inmates the mental health care they need and deserve.
West Saint Paul, MN