According to The Crime Report, based on an analysis of data from county and state prisons, PennLive estimates that nearly a third of Pennsylvania's 87,756 inmates had a mental illness on an average day last year. Of those inmates, PennLive estimates, about a third of them had a "serious mental illness" – defined as the most chronic and debilitating of mental disorders, like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Both those rates are significantly higher than the rate among Pennsylvanians outside of prison.
It begs the question: Why are so many of the state's mentally ill being locked up?
Pennsylvania isn't the only state to have significantly high numbers of mentally ill people behind bars. Multiple studies have found disproportionately high rates in correctional facilities across the country.
Keith Humphreys, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University, said the trend goes back to the 1960s.
Through much of the early 20th century, Humphreys said, a large number of America's seriously mentally ill were held in state psychiatric hospitals.
In the 1960s, however, due to growing concerns about abuses within these facilities and the ethics of confining people for the entirety of their lives, the country began a massive push to close state hospitals and move patients into the community. The hope was that they could live happier and more productive lives with the help of caseworkers and newly developed psychotropic drugs.
Between 1955 and today, America's total state hospital population fell from 558,000 to 43,000 – a decrease of more than 90 percent.
Pennsylvania embraced that campaign, known as deinstitutionalization, as much as any other state. Since 1955, the Commonwealth has closed more than 10 state hospitals and cut its average daily patient population from 41,000 to 1,500 – a decrease of 96 percent.
While the plan to treat former patients in the community might have been well-intentioned, Humphreys said, there was a key problem: Many states didn't invest enough money in case management and other community programs to meet the needs of former patients and those who would've been treated.
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