Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Mental health care lacking in state prisons

By CHANTAL COOK
Capital News Services

LANSING – A recent study shows that 65 percent of state corrections inmates suffering from a mental illness or disorder don’t receive proper treatment.

The Department of Corrections and the University of Michigan did the study of a random selection of prisons throughout the state.

Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia and the Ionia Maximum Correctional Facility were two in the study.

Professor Brent Fries and others interviewed 618 inmates, and found 20 percent suffered from a severe mental illness or disorder.

Only 35 percent of mentally ill inmates were getting treatment, the study found.

The study also showed that female inmates suffer from mental illness more often than men.

Fries, of the U-M’s School of Public Health, said lack of treatment could lead to problems.

“It’s not good for people with mental health problems to receive no treatment. It can put people at risk,” Fries said.

People think differently about mental health, he said.

If the study showed 65 percent of inmates don’t receive treatment after an injury like breaking a bone, the public would call that inhumane. However, those same people may not look at inmates without mental treatment the same way, he said.

“Sadly you have those people who think it is easy as saying ‘get over it,’” Fries said.

John Cordell, public information specialist for the Department of Corrections, said mentally unstable people were let back into the community and some ended up in prison because the state closed psychiatric hospitals.

“Prisons weren’t ready to deal with the mentally ill,” Cordell said.

He said the department asked for the report to make sure it delivers care to those who need it.

The study showed what the department is doing right and what it needs to improve, he said.

Under department policy, mental health services shall be provided to prisoners, including appropriate treatment for those seriously mentally ill.

Prisoners who need such services should have reasonable access to care including follow-ups. Prisoners diagnosed with a serious mental illness or disorder should be periodically evaluated, according to the policy.

Fries said one of the problems was prison mental health programs had difficulty targeting inmates with mental problems.

His solution is to create a five-level scale, which includes illnesses like depression and schizophrenia. Illnesses that are more common in prisons would be on the top of the scale and would be treated first. Once that happens, health care workers can treat people suffering from other diseases less common in inmates.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.
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Filed under: State Agencies

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