Sunday, November 25, 2018

Federal prisons narrow definition of mental illness instead of expanding treatment

The Federal Bureau of Prisons reports that only three percent of inmates have serious mental illness needing regular treatment, reported The Marshall Project. By comparison, more than 30 percent of California inmates get care for a “serious mental disorder.” The figure is 21 percent for New York inmates and 20 percent in Texas. Data obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request shows that instead of expanding treatment, the bureau lowered the number of inmates designated for higher care levels by more than 35 percent. Increasingly, prison staff are determining that prisoners—some with long histories of psychiatric problems—don’t require any routine care.
Although the Bureau of Prisons changed its rules, officials did not add the resources needed to implement them, creating an incentive for employees to downgrade inmates to lower care levels. BOP confirms that mental-health staffing has not increased since the policy took effect. “You doubled the workload and kept the resources the same. You don’t have to be Einstein to see how that’s going to work,” said a former Bureau of Prisons psychologist. The bureau said it is “developing a strategy” to analyze the drop in mental-health care, consistent with a Justice Department inspector general’s recommendation last year. Although only a small fraction of federal inmates are deemed ill enough to merit regular therapy, 23 percent have been diagnosed with some mental illness.
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