Report says 55% of male, 73% of female inmates are mentally ill; mental-health courts may help

April 07, 2015
An Urban Institute report points out that more than half of all inmates in jails and state prisons have a mental illness, the most common is depression, followed by bipolar disorder. The numbers are even more alarming when parsed by gender: 55% of male inmates in state prisons are mentally ill, but 73% of female inmates are. Meanwhile, the think-tank writes, "only one in three state prisoners and one in six jail inmates who suffer from mental-health problems report having received mental-health treatment since admission." Mental-health courts might help thin the ranks of sick, untreated inmates. These types of courts have expanded rapidly since 2000, and there are now hundreds around the country. The Urban Institute points out that the success of such courts at reducing recidivism has been mixed, but it nevertheless calls them "moderately effective." As the Bazelon Center noted in an overview of mental-health courts, two-thirds of them use jail time to punish noncompliance with treatment. Bazelon also said it's important that they not become the only avenue for poor, mentally ill people who need help: "There is an inherent risk that any court-based diversion program ... might lead law enforcement officers to arrest someone with a mental illness in the expectation that this will lead to the provision of services."