Prisoners mental state worsens behind bars

By Christina Cimmino
October 6, 2006

Shane Evans

According to recent studies, it has been shown that as many as one in six United States prisoners are mentally ill. In fact, the mental illness rate in prisons is three times higher than in the general population and are more common in females rather than males. In recent years, this problem has come to the surface and has gained the public’s attention, while most prisons have been aware of the problem as early as the 1980s.

The Human Rights Watch study shows that while many state hospitals have closed, the Unites States prison system has quadrupled over the past 30 years.

Dr. Jeffery Gingerich, professor of sociology and criminology, said, “This problem has been an issue for awhile but the public is just becoming aware of the issues involved. No one knows what quite to do.”

According to the Human Rights Watch, jails and prisons have become the default mental health system. This is due to an incompetent and under funded mental health services. When it comes to mental health facilities and prisons, Gingerich says, “They need to start working together a lot more,” while behind him a picture on his wall states ‘A Peaceable Kingdom.’ However, many prisons are designed to punish people not to provide treatment for the inmates that they hold.

Most mentally ill inmates find it extremely difficult to act in accordance with the prison rules. Most get in trouble for destroying state property and fighting with guards. However, it is not known whether or not the prisoner has control over their own actions due to their mental state. Others are more prone to be taken advantage of by other inmates. Some are abused, raped and have their belongings stolen.

Mostly this problem lies within the amount of services that are offered and that are available to these mentally ill inmates. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Mental Health Services, there are five Mental Health Units provided in prisons in Pennsylvania that are located in Graterford, Frackville, Cresson, Rockview, and Muncy. Even though there are units available, that doesn’t necessarily mean that there are enough for every ill prisoner.

Gingerich, who has had an internship in prisons before, said, “Prisons are understaffed and overpopulated,” which makes it difficult to treat every patient. He encourages and tells his students, “One of the most important jobs is working with mentally ill prisons.”

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Christina Cimmino

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