In 2015, June was declared National Reentry Awareness Month. To bring awareness to reentry in America, we will be posting reentry stories throughout the month as part of our The Road to Reentry blog and vlog series. You will hear from people who have returned home from jail or prison. In these stories, they will share with us their reentry experiences, good and bad. And from their stories, we hope to demonstrate the importance of reentry supports, not only from federal and local governments, but also family and friends. Clips will be posted to our social media and will link to the full vlog or blog post located here. We hope you stay tuned and share!
UPDATE (1/2018): We were not able to launch this series, but may repurpose some of the content in the future. Stay tuned. Thanks!
People with serious mental disorders (SMI) are incarcerated at rates that are higher than their representation in the actual population. This is a result of deinstitutionalization and order-maintenance policing (as mentioned in the previous blog post). With high numbers of individuals with SMI in prisons, reentry can be a daunting issue. About two thirds of offenders released from jails and prisons will recidivate; this rate is much higher when examining just offenders with SMI. Former President George W. Bush referenced the issue is his 2004 State of the Union, saying “[People with SMI that] can’t find work, or a home, or help, they are much more likely to commit crime and return to prison. . . . America is the land of second chance, and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life.”
Lawmakers have been making strides to improve reentry programs for both adult and juvenile offenders with mental illnesses. The Second Chance Act of 2007 expanded services for the 600,000 offenders that are released yearly by providing employment services, substance abuse treatments, counseling, and mentor programs. Despite these new laws, old problems still persist. According to a study of a state prison in Texas, offenders with SMI as well as substance abuse problems have a much more difficult time with reentry. This means that rehabilitation after incarceration is key to a successful reentry. Women especially require special services for reentry because female offenders are more likely to have mental illnesses or substance abuse problems.
In recent history, repeat offenders have been dealt with through harsher sentencing, however many researchers have found rehabilitative approaches could be more effective. Harsher sentencing laws mean that there are fewer reentry services provided to offenders that are about to be released and many chose not to take advantage of what little there is available to them. Individuals with untreated mental illness, addictions, and limited coping skills will have a more difficult time finding a home and employment after release. Drug rehabilitation and halfway housing programs are proven to be effective in reducing recidivism. Programs like these have been developed and enacted all over the U.S., however it is important that they be expanded. Another improvement could be making these services and programs not only more accessible but also incentivizing them for inmates with SMI. Equipping individuals, young and old, with mental illnesses with the skills they need for reentry into their communities could seriously reduce the population in state prisons and jails nationwide.
By: Jean Vozella
Ever since deinstitutionalization in the 1970s, there has been an increased rate in the arrest and incarceration of people with mental health conditions. Deinstitutionalization, the process of replacing long-stay psychiatric hospitals with community mental health services for those with mental health issues, began in 1963 when John F. Kennedy passed the Community Mental Health Act. This act created federally funded psychiatric institutions that patients in state facilities could be transferred to. It was meant to reduce the population of mental health institutions as well as reform their treatment processes so that those with mental health-related disabilities would be less dependent on institutional care. It meant the reducing of admissions to mental health facilities and the shortening of patient’s stays. There is debate over the effectiveness of this process as being less isolated has benefited many individuals with mental health conditions; however, it has left many others homeless, unemployed, or incarcerated.
A study of the incarcerated population of several European countries in 1939 led to the theory that the number of people in jails and the number of people in mental facilities was inversely related. This theory, later coined “balloon theory,” would be tested in the United States in the 1970s. When deinstitutionalization reduced the number of patients in psychiatric institutions, the incarceration rate of individuals with mental health conditions began to increase.
Today, about 10 to 15% of inmates in state prisons have a mental health condition or a severe mental health-related disability. Many of these inmates have prior arrest records or had previously been institutionalized in a mental facility. It is difficult for these individuals to get the help they need in state prisons, and once they are released they have no home or family to return to. Without proper treatment and a strong support system, inmates with mental health-related disabilities are highly likely to be rearrested once they are released, creating a hopeless and dangerous cycle.
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