Mentally Ill Inmates Held In Confinement Longer, Federal Watchdog Says


Federal prison inmates suffering from mental illnesses often find themselves stuck in confinement for longer periods compared with their peers who don't have illnesses, a federal watchdog revealed earlier this week.

In a report released on Wednesday, July 12, the Office of Inspector General said the federal Bureau of Prisons has been doing a poor job in providing care and treatment for mentally ill patients.

Investigators found that many of these inmates were placed in isolation for long periods, which could worsen their conditions. This treatment is now being compared with placing people in solitary confinement.

The Bureau of Prisons said it does not recognize the term and denied that it has ever implemented such a practice. However, the OIG said employees and former officials of the bureau were the ones who compared the BOP's treatment of mentally ill inmates as just that.

Taking Care Of Mentally Ill Inmates

The BOP has tried to implement measures to provide better care for mentally ill patients in the past. It reduced its reliance on "restrictive housing," and even introduced policies in 2014 that were designed to help inmates with mental problems.

The bureau's plan, however, was derailed because of a shortage of available medical staff in its facilities. Instead of improving care for mentally ill inmates, investigators said the number of people receiving treatment dropped by as much as 30 percent.

The OIG report also highlighted the difficulty in determining the exact number of mentally ill inmates who have been placed on confinement. This is because the Bureau of Prisons does not fully document those who suffer from mental problems or even those who have been placed in isolation.

The bureau has also been inconsistent in its assessment, providing varying accounts of the number of mentally ill inmates. Investigators said the BOP's figures range from 3 percent to 40 percent.

According to the National Association of Mental Illness, as much as 18.5 percent of adult Americans experience mental problems every year.

The BOP said it will implement changes to its policies regarding mentally ill inmates and restrictive housing. It has also agreed to limit the time in isolation of inmates and provide better documentation of those placed in confinement. Additional medical staff will also be brought in to care for the inmates.

The Bureau of Prisons handles about 122 federal institutions in the United States. Records from June 2016 revealed that 9,749 (7 percent) of the 148,227 inmates in these facilities have been placed in solitary confinement at one point.

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