Mental Health Treatment Within Prison

Mental Illness correctional medical care

There is no “standard” or “normalized” or “one-size fits all” treatment for those suffering from mental illness. There are medications, there are psychiatric evaluations, psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, light treatments, exercise, occupational therapy–the list goes on almost endlessly. When someone is diagnosed with a mental illness, a mixed-bag approach can be taken; not every treatment works for every individual–they are tailored approaches to treating debilitating illnesses.

When you’re outside of prison, this approach is more easily malleable, more easily flexed to fit the specific needs of the individual. Whether it’s depression, anxiety, Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or any number of the wealth of mental health disorders that are prevalent in our society today. The treatments are flexible and there is room for adjustments when necessary–you can see a therapist once a month, once a week or once a day.

Inside of prison, treating mental illness becomes more difficult. Within prisons, mental illness is already an enormous issues–a good percent of the prison population suffers from mental illness which can, in certain cases, go untreated. Living with a mental health condition within the walls of a prison can be difficult, even overwhelmingly so. This is due in part to the fact that the closure of mental health facilities around the country have increased the prevalence of the mentally ill in prison. Often, if they cannot get treatment at a psychiatric hospital, prison is the only option left.

And the treatment options in prison become significantly more difficult. Severe mental illness is present in about 25% of the correctional population in the United States, including individuals in prisons, in jails, and on probation. The most important aspects of administering both regular and adequate treatment of mental illness are those of safety.

Without adequate treatment, those who suffer from mental health disorders could be prone to violent outbursts or thoughts of causing harm to themself or others. Suicide problems within prisons are already a known issue; while precautions are taken to minimize the opportunities that inmates have to cause harm to themselves, the risk is still evident. The goal of successful treatment

However, treatment for mental health issues extends beyond simply medicating them and calling it a day. Antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications or antipsychotics are helpful facets of treating mental illness, but are also costly.  An inmate without a mental illness costs the state about $22,000 a year, while an inmate with a mental illness can wind up more than doubling that number, costing up to $50,000 a year in medications.

Roughly 65% of prisons provide counselling to their inmates. Ideally, this number would be closer to 100%. Even so, only about 24% of inmates at the state level and 16% at the federal level actually participated in either group or individual sessions according to the same study.

Those with mental illnesses can also be a threat not only to themselves, but to others as well. Violence within prison walls is a well-documented problem, and it remains to be seen how much of the violence that is present in the yard, in cells or in the cafeteria could be tied to mental illness.

Properly treating those who have mental illness is a struggle within prison walls, as increased costs and slashed budgets can but strains on medication and in-house treatment options for inmates who need treatment more than anyone else.