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Prison is a revolving door for the mentally ill

December 1, 2008 |  8:33 am

Prison1Prisons often have been described as the largest mental hospitals in the country. A study confirms that perception and suggests that, without more appropriate treatment, many mentally ill inmates are the most likely criminals to be repeat offenders.

The study, published today in the American Journal of Psychiatry, examined the country's largest state prison system, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Researchers, from the University of Texas Medical Branch, found that 10% of those incarcerated had been diagnosed previously with a major mental illness and were far more likely than inmates without a psychiatric disorder to be incarcerated repeatedly.

"Our findings point to the need for expanding interventions to reduce recidivism among inmates with serious mental illness," said the lead author of the study, Jacques Baillargeon, in a news release. But, he notes, although mentally ill people are sometimes diverted to community-based mental-health treatment programs, those diversion programs are generally not available to people who commit violent crimes. Alternative correctional systems with appropriate clinical treatment facilities should be considered for those mentally ill inmates, he proposed.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Eric Paul Zamora/Associated Press

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