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.
How do we fight this process? We need to provide more accessible services to these individuals, such as hospital treatment and medication. It would also be beneficial to educate police officers and provide resources that make it easier for them to properly handle offenders with mental health conditions. And for those offenders with mental health conditions who are currently incarcerated and are expecting release, we can....
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