Prisons’ Fastest Growing Population: Mentally Ill, Aging Inmates

By Julianne Hing Jun 16, 2014

Aging inmates and those with mental illness constitute the bulk of the fastest-growing segment of prison populations, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. In a story about Marvae Dunn, a 64-year-old man who allegedly shot and killed his sister-in-law in 2007 but who spent years in declining health languishing behind bars, the Inquirer’s Melissa Dribben delves into the shifts in today’s prison population, which today function as "society’s psychiatric institutions," she writes.

That shift has been driven by a lack of mental health care outside of prison:

In terms of his mental illness, Dunn was not unusual. Of the county’s 8,500 inmates, about 35 percent are mentally ill, 15 percent of whom are seriously impaired with schizophrenia, bipolar disease, or psychosis. If you include personality disorders, Herdman said, the percentage would be, perhaps, 80 percent.

Among women, he said, the percentages are even higher. About 80 percent of the women at the county’s Riverside facility are on psychiatric medicines, he said, and half have been diagnosed with serious mental illness.

"Nationwide, you will see similar figures," said civil rights attorney David Rudovsky.

"Virtually everybody who has looked at this problem of seriously mentally ill people in prisons agrees that many are there as a result of a lack of mental-health care in the community," Rudovsky said. "Despite the enormous cost of using prisons as the last mental-health catchment area, we don’t see much change in the system."

h/t The Crime Report