Mental Illness and Prisoners: Concerns for Communities and Healthcare Providers

Samantha Hoke, MSN, PMHNP-BC, RN


Online J Issues Nurs. 2015;20(1) 

In This Article

Recidivism and Mental Health Concerns

Recidivism, or repeat offenders, further strains the prison budget. Recidivism is defined as a repeated arrest or incarceration (Baillargeon, Binswanger, Penn, Williams & Murray, 2009). In a 15 state study, over 2/3 of released prisoners reoffended or were rearrested within 3 years; this equates to 4 out of every 10 people released from prison are re-incarcerated (Bureau of Justice, 2013; Stephan, 2004). However, evidence shows the largest impact on prison budgets is from altering sentences and release policies, rather than altering per-inmate costs (Stephan, 2004). Operating a safe, humane, and well-programmed institution is not cheap and low per-inmate cost is not necessarily a priority (Stephan, 2004).

Mental healthcare for this population is both expensive and crucial (Stephan, 2004). A 2006 Department of Justice study found more than half of all inmates have a mental health problem compared to 11% of the general population (James & Glaze, 2006). Mentally ill inmates are often inappropriately treated due to lack of knowledge about the rising mental health population (FRONTLINE, 2005). With recognition that prisons are not well equipped for the mentally ill, community programs have arisen to decrease sentencing of nonviolent offenders and the mentally ill. These community efforts have helped to educate the general public and debunk myths about mental illness.