Il prison watchdog group says many people with mental illness end up in prison

Jul 1, 2013

Last week, prison officials in Indiana announced they'd soon add programs for mentally ill inmates, and house them in a special facility. A few days earlier, a report from a prison watchdog group raised concerns about the same kind of inmates in an Illinois prison. IPR’S Brian Mackey has more.
The John Howard Association, a prison-monitoring group, says the demise of our mental health system in recent decades means a lot of people with mental illness end up in prison.

"And the prison system has no way to deal with someone who's seriously mentally ill."

John Maki, no relation, is director of the John Howard Association.

"These are people who are not making choices, who are not intentionally doing wrong. These are people who are ill and have symptoms. And the only way that DOC can really deal with people who are seriously mentally ill, is eventually to put them in places like Pontiac to put them in segregation."

Maki says the higher a prison's security level, the more mentally ill inmates one is likely to see. And he says long-term isolation tends to make mental problems worse.

When the association visited the prison, 274 of the inmates held in isolation were getting psychotropic medicine or mental-health treatment. The group recommends Illinois not house inmates with mental illness in long-term isolation.