Winding up in jail, even for a minor infraction, increases the chance of getting sentenced to incarceration, loss of income, getting out and returning to crime, and worsened health, a Vera Institute of Justice report finds.
Jail is a gateway to “deeper and more lasting involvement in the criminal justice system,” according to the report, Incarceration’s Front Door: The Misuse of Jails in America, February 2015. The report concludes jail also exacerbates problems for the mentally ill.
THE REPORT NOTES
On any given day, there are about 731,000 bookings in nearly 3,000 jails across the country. Nationally, annual bookings nearly doubled, from 6 million in 1983 to 11.7 million in 2013.
Not only are more people ending up in jail, the length of stay increased from an average of 14 days in 1983 to 23 days in 2013.
Nearly 75 percent of sentenced offenders and pretrial detainees are in jail for nonviolent traffic, property, drug, or public order offenses.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports 60 percent of jail inmates reported having had symptoms of a mental health disorder in the previous 12 months.
At a rate four to six times higher than in the general population, an estimated 14.5 percent of men and 31 percent of women in jails has serious mental illnesses, according to Vera.
Seventeen percent of jail inmates with mental illness were homeless in the year before their arrest, compared to nine percent of the rest of the jail population.
Nearly a third of jail inmates with mental illness were unemployed in the month before arrest, compared to less than a quarter of the rest of the population.
|“Fifteen percent of jail inmates with mental illness were using drugs and alcohol”|
Thirty-four percent of jail inmates with mental illness were drug users at the time of arrest compared to 20 percent of the rest of the jail population.
Fifteen percent of jail inmates with mental illness were using drugs and alcohol at the time of arrest, compared to seven percent of the rest of the jail population.
The Vera report cited the “constant noise, bright lights, an ever-changing population, and an atmosphere of threat and violence…coupled with the near-absence of mental health treatment” to show that jails are damaging to people with mental illness.
According to the latest data available to Vera, 83 percent of jail inmates with mental illness did not receive mental health care after admission.
Vera reports that most people with serious mental illnesses enter jail with minor, nonviolent crimes, yet they end up staying in jail for longer periods of time than offenders without mental illnesses.
Breakdowns in “care is likely a large part of the reason why people with mental illness tend to cycle in and out of jail,” according to Vera.