Decarcerating Mentally Ill Offenders: A Collision Between Corrections and Mental Health Policies

Thomas M. Green, National University
Chandrika M. Kelso, National University

The current system of delivering mental health services to the elderly is complex and inadeuqate, and it may soon get more complicated. As the number of individuals in the crime prone ages of 14-24 is about to increase dramatically, prison officials are looking for ways to increase capacity and minimize costs. Older inmates pose the least amount of risk of recidivism and are more costly to house than younger inmates. However, decarcerating the elderly, especially those with a mental illness, will pose enormous problems to already overburdened community mental health systems. What is needed is a thorough review of the policies that will inform and address this potential problems. This paper has three main objectives. The first objective is to produce a comparative analysis of current public health policies as they relate to elderly, mentally ill inmates who are released from prison either on parole or after completing the terms of their sentence in those six states. The second objective is to produce a gap analysis to assess whether these policies are adequate to address a large scale deinstitutionalization of the elderly, mentally ill from the states' correctional facilities. The third objective is to produce a set of "best practices" recommendations for addressing the decarceration of the elderly who have a mentla illness, with a focus on public-private partnerships.

This research is expected to make two important contributions. First, there is a compelling need to raise awareness among policy makers about the potential for a large scale deinstitionalizationof elderly, mentally ill inmates, and the potential effects of such actions. Second, there is a great need to analyze and evaluate the current corrections and public health policies that might inform and provide for a second deinstitutionalization movement. Given the experiences that resulted from the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill from state hospitals beginning in the 1950s, it is important from both a humanitarian and economic point of view to be better prepared should a second movement occur.

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Updated 05/20/2006