Aug. 25, 2022 – “He had no support system,” Carter’s high school friend Ray Robinson told The City. “He just had to really rely on himself and those close to him.”

This kind of negligence is all too common and a direct consequence of the criminal legal system often acting as the principal intervention point for people’s mental health needs. In the United States, people with serious mental health conditions are more likely to have contact with law enforcement than receive any form of treatment. Additionally, ten times more people are held in jails and prisons than in state hospitals—a number is rooted partially in divestment, with the number of state hospital beds shrinking by 94 percent since the 1950s. State hospitals themselves were often punitive, and in the 1960s Congress passed a law to replace them with community mental health centers. But few of those centers were ever built, and governments have failed to put money into programs like crisis response teams or treatment options. Instead, funds have flowed into jail and prison systems, which are now the largest providers of mental health care in the country.

But jails and prisons are fundamentally not therapeutic environments, and they are woefully ill-equipped to provide these services. About three in five people with a history of mental health conditions do not receive treatment while incarcerated. They are also more likely to face discipline and spend three times longer in solitary confinement. The trauma of incarceration, compounded by a lack of adequate treatment and reentry resources, creates a revolving door in which people with mental health conditions are unable to stabilize their lives.


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