Smart Talk: Why So Many Mentally Ill in Prison?

Up to a third of Pennsylvania prison inmates suffer from mental illness.

It’s not just a Pennsylvania problem either as a report from the PEW Charitable Trust points out:

According to a 2009 study cited by the Council of State Governments Justice Center, an estimated 2 million adults with serious mental illnesses are jailed in the course of a year. Studies, including one from the Urban Institute, say they tend to stay in jail longer than those without mental illnesses, return to jail more often and cost local jurisdictions more money while incarcerated. More frequently than not, they are jailed for minor offenses, such as trespassing, disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace or illicit drug use.

The Patriot-News/PennLive last week published a series called From Patients to Prisoners that investigated reasons for the increasing number of mentally ill inmates.

What they found include the closure of state mental hospitals over the past two decades and police officers not trained in dealing with mental illness or having no treatment alternatives for a mentally ill person who has broken the law.

Appearing on Tuesday’s Smart Talk are Patriot-News/PennLive reporter Daniel Simmons-Ritchie, who researched and wrote the series of articles, and Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel.