A recent editorial from my hometown newspaper noted the tragedy of housing the mentally ill within prisons, and it is a lament anyone familiar with the criminal justice system shares; but it came about because legislation took away the ability to place people—even against their will—who are obviously dangerous to themselves and others, into secure mental facilities.

In this recent New York Times article the impact of deinstitutionalization is examined, see at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/25/opinion/nocera-for-the-mentally-ill-its-worse.html

As a result, most of the secure mental facilities closed.

Consequently, when mentally ill people act on their delusions—often as a result of not taking proscribed medication—they can wind up in jails and prisons.

An excerpt from the editorial.

Correctional officers are not nurses or psychiatric technicians. But increasingly, prison officers must handle mentally ill prisoners. For years, 20 percent of the prison population was mentally ill. But as the number of prisoners declines, the percentage who are mentally ill rises.

Last year, California prisons counted the number of inmates diagnosed with significant mental illness at 33,777, including 6,051 with severe conditions such as schizophrenia.

That number represented slightly less than 30 percent of the overall prison population.
As of Friday, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation placed the number of inmates diagnosed with significant psychiatric issues at 36,067, including 6,360 with severe mental illness. That’s 30.7 percent of the 117,497 inmates.

Retrieved January 26, 2014 from