Have Prisons and Jails Simply Replaced Institutions in Warehousing People with Mental Illness and Cognitive Disabilities?

In what was widely regarded as a positive development in the United States, the number of individuals residing in institutions plunged from nearly 560,000 in 1955 to approximately 70,000 in 1994.  Unfortunately, this move was not followed by sufficient community resources to meet the needs of this population.  Some subsequently ended up being routed to the criminal justice system, often because of misdemeanors and other mild infractions of the law (like loitering).  It is now estimated that “federal and state jails and prisons are now home to three times as many people with mental health conditions as state mental hospitals” and “Prison inmates are four times as likely and jail inmates more than six times as likely to report a cognitive disability than the general population”, according to an article by the Center for American Progress.

As with other forms of institutionalized care, incarceration is a much more expensive route to housing and “caring” for people with disabilities, and that is assuming individuals in prisons and jails are getting the services they need, which they may not be.  And, once an individual is released, all of the barriers an ex-convict encounters while trying to reintegrate into society can be compounded by the lack of services appropriate to meet the needs of the person with a disability.

For more information, follow this link to the Center for American Progress article:  Disabled Behind Bars The Mass Incarceration of People With Disabilities in America’s Jails and Prisons.