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New Study Documents High Prevalence of Serious Mental Illnesses Among Nation's Jail Populations

WASHINGTON, June 1 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A new study released today of more than 20,000 men and women entering jail offers the most accurate accounting in more than two decades of the number of adults with serious mental illnesses in these facilities.

Using screening instruments to identify individuals entering jails with the most serious mental illnesses and the greatest need for comprehensive and continuous treatment, a team of researchers from the nonpartisan Council of State Governments Justice Center and Policy Research Associates found that 14.5 percent of males and 31 percent of females -- or 16.9 percent overall -- met that criteria.

These estimates are three to six times higher than the general population, and indicate that as many as 2 million bookings of people with serious mental illnesses may occur each year. The findings, published today in the journal Psychiatric Services, underscore the challenges faced by jail administrators to address the needs of individuals with mental illnesses in the face of budget cuts and extremely limited resources.

At a Capitol Hill briefing today, Art Wallenstein, Director of the Montgomery County Department of Correction and Rehabilitation, said, "Jails at the county and municipal level were never intended to replace the need for a strong community-based mental health system. Better alternatives exist and they must be encouraged and supported. Jail is not the answer for addressing mental illness in this country."

Judge Steven Leifman, Special Advisor on Criminal Justice and Mental Health for the Supreme Court of Florida, said, "Only through systemwide collaboration and partnerships can we begin to close the revolving door to the criminal justice system which, today, results in increased recidivism, devastation to our families and communities, wasteful government spending, and the shameful warehousing in jails and prisons of some of the most vulnerable and neglected members of our communities."

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is leading a bipartisan coalition of senators in pressing for full funding of the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act (MIOTCRA). The law authorizes federal grants to help state and local governments create or expand mental health courts; offer treatment and training programs; and teach law enforcement officers and agents to recognize and react to situations involving individuals with mental illnesses.

For more information on the study, its authors and its implications, visit

SOURCE Council of State Governments Justice Center
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