It’s a forgone conclusion that U.S. prisons and jails serve as the nation’s de facto asylums for a majority of people with serious mental illness. Now comes a report that applies hard numbers to the depressing picture: Ten times as many people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other acute forms of brain disease reside in prisons and county jails than in state hospitals, according to the Treatment Advocacy Center.
The study, released on Tuesday, counted 356,000 prison inmates with serious mental illnesses and 35,000 patients being treated in publicly run hospitals. The stark 10-to-one ratio in populations tracks the decades-long reduction in the number of available hospital beds from a peak of 559,000 in 1955. In 44 states, according to the study, the biggest mental health institution is a prison or jail. Three facilities—Cook County in Chicago, Shelby County in Memphis, and Polk County in Des Moines—house more inmates with serious mental illness than all the state hospitals in their respective states.