David Earl Johnson, LICSW

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World map showing number of prisoners per 100,...

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With 75% of all prisoners in state and federal prisons showing significant symptoms of mental illness, it’s not surprising that youths are not immune. The sad part is that the younger the prisoner, the more damaging will be the experience of prison, the more likely they will re-offend on release, and the more likely they’ll be back in prison. At least some states are beginning to emphasize rehabilitation rather than the self-defeating plan to punish the guilty. Psychiatric News
“Prisons must be prepared to provide culturally competent psychiatric care to juvenile offenders sentenced to adult prisons. Mental disorder prevalence rates are high among these young people. Nearly 70 percent of adolescents from a Chicago detention center charged with a crime and transferred to adult criminal courts have at least one psychiatric disorder. Furthermore, teenagers from the detention center sentenced to prison had more than twice the odds of having a psychiatric disorder as those not sentenced to a prison term, according to a study published in the September Psychiatric Services. The findings point to a crisis in the juvenile-justice system, in which a substantial number of adolescents are remanded to adult courts for trial, according to Jason Washburn, Ph.D., lead author of the study and a research assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Psychiatric treatment needs to be an integral part of any rehabilitation program for these,” Washburn told Psychiatric News.”
Deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill was considered the most humane solution to the long-term hospitalization and poor conditions of state hospitals. However, the money did not follow the released into the community. As a result, the mentally ill make up most people who are homeless and in prison. Given the high cost of housing the mentally ill and chemically dependent in prison, and the likelihood the problem will be make worse before release, we need real reform for community treatment. Hennepin County in Minnesota has begun to take on the problem. Britain has come under withering criticism about their juvenile system. California has reform in mind, but will also realize cost savings. The public supports reform for juvenile offenders, I have to wonder if public attitudes are moving for adult rehabilitation as well.
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