Lack community care and less availability of state psychiatric hospitals, have made prisons the top mental health provider. A study done by Pope et al.* examined how clients felt about the treatment they received while incarcerated and how they are treated upon re-entry to the society. Multiple clients agreed going through the criminal justice system is a stressful thing to experience as well as being incarcerated with other inmates causes even more stress and hypervigilance. For inmates already struggling with a mental illness before incarceration, this stress can bring out symptoms and make the illness worse. Some clients also noted how prison staff contributed to their stress and anxiety by abusing their authority (450, Pope). Clients also stated that there were unpredictable mental health services in prison. They noted there was a lack of therapeutic interaction with clinicians, and when there was, they did not receive attention beyond basic monitoring (450, Pope). It seems like in any environment they were in, they were being monitored instead of being helped or rehabilitated.
Returning to the community after being incarcerated has many challenges, especially when dealing with a mental illness. Many clients were released without a home to go to or a life to go back to. Their unstable lives lead to a fall back into drug use, failing to attend mental health services, and violating parole (451, Pope). Providers of mental health services commented that mandatory clients are more difficult to engage with because they feel forced to be there (452, Pope). Some providers admitted their fear of being prejudice while working with clients who have a criminal history (452, Pope). Prisoners not getting adequate treatment while incarcerated indicated they are less likely to want to continue on with treatment upon re-entry to the community. There are many barriers that the criminal justice system entails that makes it hard for mentally ill prisoners to be rehabilitated. In order to decrease the recidivism rates, mental health rehabilitation needs to improve within prisons and the goal of rehabilitation should be priority. Making sure prisoners have a set plan for treatment upon reentry to the community is also critical to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
*Pope, L. G., Smith, T. E., Wisdom, J. P., Easter, A. and Pollock, M. (2013), Transitioning Between Systems of Care: Missed Opportunities for Engaging Adults with Serious Mental Illness and Criminal Justice Involvement. Behav. Sci. Law, 31: 444-456.
Read more about the overburdened state mental health system here.