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Access to Mental Health Services

By: Carly Faulkner


Mental health affects everyone, including the men, women, and children facing incarceration. However, there is limited access to adequate mental health care in U.S. prisons. According to Mental Health America (MHA), about 1.2 million people in prison or jail live with mental illness. This means that more than half the U.S. prison population struggles with a mental illness. This disproportionate statistic stems from the criminal justice system’s inadequate treatment of people with mental health issues. 


Jails and prisons are not adequate mental healthcare facilities, yet people with mental health problems are more likely to be arrested and jailed than receive medical help. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), for most mentally ill people who are jailed, their condition worsens because of lack of treatment. 


 To correct this issue, significant adjustments must be made. There should be alternative first-responders who can better assess behavioral conditions, mandatory programs that guide and support the transition of people with mental illness in and out of imprisonment, and school intervention programs that can reduce the risk of incarceration in the future.


The American prison system incarcerates an excessive amount of people who are currently or have previously been struggling with mental illness. 


Locking the mentally ill into prisons instead of getting them proper treatment is in no way a form of restorative justice. More effective mental health services need to be put in place inside correctional facilities and among more communities. Former administrator to the bureau of prisons, Thomas Faagan, Ph.D., believes in the same solution and states, “We lock up people with mental health problems when we should be treating these people in the community… In the absence of that, prisons and jails become de facto treatment centers” (APA).  It is clear that prisons are not the correct solution for treating people with mental illness. 


To help solve this crisis, we must eliminate barriers to the treatment of mental illness. The treatment advocacy center has funded an assisted outpatient treatment program (AOT) that provides community-based mental health treatment. The Treatment Advocacy Center is currently accepting donations and signatures to help support their network. Additionally, if you shop on Amazon using this link, the Treatment Advocacy Center will receive a percentage of the money you spend. 


Mental illness should not be criminalized. People deserve proper treatment and community-based facilities that will treat them fairly and not as villains. Prisons should not be the solution when it comes to mental health issues. 



“Access to Mental Health Care and Incarceration.” Mental Health America,

“Jailing People with Mental Illness.” NAMI, National Alliance on Mental Illness, 

Stringer, Heather. “Improving Mental Health for Inmates.” Monitor on Psychology, American Psychological Association, Mar. 2019,