It has been affirmed that the number of mentally ill people imprisoned is about twenty-five million (Bureau of Justice Statistics). Research also confirms that people who are mentally ill have a greater likelihood of being imprisoned for violent activities (Ortiz, 2000). The highly elevated numbers of mentally ill offenders in prison pose enormous challenges with regard to management due to constraints of staff and resources which often leads to crowded and badly managed prisons. Due to these limitations of space, time, and resources, it is increasingly difficult for prisons to be effectively managed while catering to the special needs of the mentally ill inmates. It is also vital to segregate the mentally ill offenders who require special attention, from other offenders, by placing them in “separate dormitories” (Ortiz, 2000). This paper aims to discuss some of the special requirements of mentally ill offenders and analyze some potential solutions to improve their condition and situation in prisons.
Among the mentally ill, those offenders which need to be monitored are the ones who have “attempted suicide previously” (Glick and Sturgeon, 1999). Researchers have found that violent offenders with prior history of suicide attempt necessities attentiveness on behalf of staff members who are required to be “mindful and alert for signs of suicide” (Glick and Sturgeon, 1999). In such cases, timely assessment is a compulsion so that treatment can be provided to avert any suicide attempts. Identification of individuals with risks of suicide can be identified through “suicide prevention programs” which help in the management of such individuals (Glick and Sturgeon, 1999). However, for any program to be implemented successfully, it is necessary to screen and identify such prisoners in a timely manner so that help can be extended to avert any issues. Studies indicate the importance of “effective programs” for mentally ill prisoners, which can be initiated with the help of “good screening and assessment tool” with the purpose of “categorize and dividing” them on the basis of their medical and counseling (group or individual) needs (Ortiz, 2000). The screening also enables authorities to distinguish prisoners with “serious mental illnesses” and provide them with the appropriate services including “mental health, medical care, and housing” through community programs like the ‘Maryland Community Criminal Justice program’ (Ortiz, 2000).
Another model of treatment which can be used as an exemplar by prisons is the ‘Oregon Department of Corrections’ which is a mental health program for identifying individuals with severe mental health illness and prioritizing treatment to such patients. Identification of those in urgent need of the program occurs through “case management” in which case managers are actively involved in observing and identifying inmates through interaction and assistance from correctional staff members. Once at-risk prisoners have been identified, they can be integrated into and treated with the help of “community reintegration and aftercare programs” which offer guidance and support to these offenders (Glick and Sturgeon, 1999).
With the correctional system prepared to accept the challenges of dealing with and treating mentally ill offenders, who are prone to suicide attempts, it is important for authorities to implement the necessary programs and services to meet the needs of this group of offenders.
- Bureau of Justice Statistics. (1999). Mental health and treatment of inmates and probationers. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice.
- Ortiz, Madeline M. Managing special populations. (2000) Corrections Today 62.7: 64.
- Glick, Barry, and William Sturgeon (1999). Rising to the challenge: identifying and meeting the needs of juvenile offenders with special needs. Corrections Today 61.2: 106(6).