The national problem of people living with mental illness who are involved with the criminal justice system has correlated with the reduction of inpatient tretment due to the development of better psychotropic medications and a reduction in funding for mental health treatment. Nationally and in Alamance County, the county jail houses more people with mental illness or co-occurring substance dependence than any residential treatment facility in the community. Many of the offenses for which these citizens are arrested are misdemeanors that are a result of untreated manifestations of their illness. It is the intent of this initiative to identify these individuals prior to criminal justice systm involvement or once in jail, and then provide the necessary screening, assessment, engagement, treatment, and supportive services to keep them from returning to jail, while supporting them to reach their optimal state of well-being.
Chief Deputy Tim Britt, a leader in this initiative, tells the current story of an Alamance County citizen who falls into this population who is “serving a life sentence 30 days at a time.” This individual, like many presently in the county jail, cycle thorugh periods of being untreated for thier conditions and then present behaviors that require arrest due to lack of treatment alternatives. To be clear, it is these individuals that this initiative is geared to respond to, not to those who are charged with serious crimes, regardless of the presence of mental illness.
High Rates of People with Serious Mental Illness in Jail
- About 16% of people in US jails have a serious mental illness.
- Women in jail have double the rate of serious mental illness as men.
- Nationally, every year, about 800,000 people with severe mental illness are incarcerated in our jails.
- Each year, about 25,000 people with severe mental illness end up in North Carolina’s jails.
(Extrapolated from U.S. census figures)