As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Thursday, February 22, 2007

20% of State Prisoners are Mentally Ill

This is a must-read piece by Steve Lopez today on the makeup of our state's prison population.

In the ongoing flap over prison overcrowding in California and what to do about it, little consideration has been given to inmates such as Stephan Lilly.

I wrote about the Los Angeles man late last year, when his conviction on charges stemming from a scuffle with a security guard were counted as a third strike. Despite a years-long battle with schizophrenia, and the fact that one of the three strikes was a threat that involved no physical contact, Lilly got 25 to life.

California's prisons are jammed with thousands of mentally ill inmates who didn't get help before their incarceration and aren't likely to get much while locked up. Not only is that like a chapter out of the Dark Ages, but the high rate of repeat crimes among parolees is costing taxpayers a fortune.

Hear, hear. Why are we sending people who need medical treatment to rot in jail? Why are these mentally ill people, who make up 1 out of every 5 inmates, given little or no treatment while incarcerated?

Fortunately, Sen. Darrell Steinberg wants to do something about it.

Tomorrow, state Sen. Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat from Sacramento, will introduce a bill that calls for a complete overhaul of mental health care behind bars, with the goal of putting a big dent in both the overcrowding problem and the high recidivism rates.

"I would argue very strongly that it's the missing element of corrections reform," Steinberg said. How can you talk about getting a handle on overcrowding, he asks, without doing something about the fact that an estimated 20%-25% of the state's 170,000 inmates are bipolar, schizophrenic, clinically depressed or otherwise afflicted?

You want to build something in this state? Build more mental hospitals. Bring in more psychologists and psycho-therapists. Build something that will help permanently reduce the impact on the prison system.

Please read this article. It's a damn shame that most legislators are so obsessed with law and order that they won't take the simple steps necessary to relieve this crisis and move the state forward.

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