The number of offenders in county jails on psychotropic medications increased 25 percent in 45 California counties in the past five years, reports California Health Policy Strategies (CHPS) for Kaiser Health News.
The Kaiser Health News report shows that a shortage of community-based treatment centers have made county jails a warehouse for mentally ill people.
A separate report by the Council On Mentally Ill Offenders (COMIO) found that the mental health prison population grew from 19 percent in 2006 to 30 percent in 2016.
Since the report was released, COMIO swapped names, becoming the Council on Criminal Justice and Behavioral Health (CCJBH).
CCBJH also notes that the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) estimates that 25 to 40 percent of people with mental illness will be jailed or incarcerated at some point in their lives.
“64% of California’s jail population is awaiting trial or sentencing as of December 2016.” Most remain in pretrial custody because they cannot afford bail. Jail Profile Survey, http://www.bscc.ca.gov/
Each year, there are an estimated two million jail admissions in the United States that involve individuals with acute mental illness.
“Jails are not conducive for real recovery,” said Zima Creason, president and chief executive officer of Mental Health America of California, “We are never going to put a dent in the numbers unless we provide a therapeutic environment.”
Kaiser Health News, however, reports that California jail officials believe they are getting better at identifying inmates that can benefit from medication.
Medications are the most critical part of treatment, says H. Richard Lamb, professor emeritus of psychiatry at the USC School of Medicine, but “you need enough mental health professionals to treat the very large numbers of mentally ill people in jails.”
Advocates for the mentally ill are concerned that psychiatric medication may be prescribed inappropriately.
Ron Honberg, senior policy adviser at NAMI, said officials with limited resources and the large number of inmates may cause psychiatric medications to be administered to “keep people calm and sedate.”
The Los Angeles County jail is described as the largest mental institution in the country.
Kaiser Health News also reported that Joseph Ortego, chief psychiatrist for correctional health in L.A. County, said that the county has improved identification and treatment of mentally ill inmates.
Creason said that jails should provide more individual and group therapy, more time outside of cells and sufficient recreation for mentally ill inmates.
Ortego said jails do not have the necessary space for therapy.
“Sadly, they just throw a bunch of pills at them because there is nothing else,” Creason said.