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They are neglected, accused of malingering, treated as disciplinary problems.
A federal district judge, referring in 1999 to conditions in Texas' prisons, made an observation that is still too widely applicable: Whether because of a lack of resources, a misconception of the reality of psychological pain, the inherent callousness of the bureaucracy, or officials' blind faith in their own policies, the [corrections department] has knowingly turned its back on this most needy segment of its population.
In the most extreme cases, conditions are truly horrific: mentally ill prisoners locked in segregation with no treatment at all; confined in filthy and beastly hot cells; left for days covered in feces they have smeared over their bodies; taunted, abused, or ignored by prison staff; given so little water during summer heat waves that they drink from their toilet bowls.
They are afflicted with delusions and hallucinations, debilitating fears, extreme and uncontrollable mood swings.
They huddle silently in their cells, mumble incoherently, or yell incessantly.
Yet across the nation, many prison mental health services are woefully deficient, crippled by understaffing, insufficient facilities, and limited programs.
All too often seriously ill prisoners receive little or no meaningful treatment.Offenders who need psychiatric interventions for their mental illness should be held in secure facilities if they have committed serious crimes, but those facilities should be designed and operated to meet treatment needs.Society gains little from incarcerating offenders with mental illness in environments that are, at best, counter-therapeutic and, at worst dangerous to their mental and physical well-being.Indeed, it is beyond any serious dispute that mental health is a need as essential to a meaningful human existence as other basic physical demands our bodies may make for shelter, warmth, or sanitation. Prisons are tense and overcrowded facilities in which all prisoners struggle to maintain their self-respect and emotional equilibrium despite violence, exploitation, extortion, and lack of privacy; stark limitations on family and community contacts; and a paucity of opportunities for meaningful education, work, or other productive activities.But doing time in prison is particularly difficult for prisoners with mental illness that impairs their thinking, emotional responses, and ability to cope.In the United States, there are three times more mentally ill people in prisons than in mental health hospitals, and prisoners have rates of mental illness that are two to four times greater than the rates of members of the general public.While there has been extensive documentation of the growing presence of the mentally ill in prison, little has been written about their fate behind bars."It is deplorable and outrageous that this state's prisons appear to have become a repository for a great number of its mentally ill citizens.Persons who, with psychiatric care, could fit well into society, are instead locked away, to become wards of the state's penal system.Mental illness impairs prisoners' ability to cope with the extraordinary stresses of prison and to follow the rules of a regimented life predicated on obedience and punishment for infractions.These prisoners are less likely to be able to follow correctional rules.