$15 Billion Price Tag for Keeping Mentally Ill in Jail

By Sandy K. Johnson

What happens when the criminal justice system encounters mentally ill people? A mashup of misunderstandings and miscues, sometimes with tragic consequences.

Here are some astonishing statistics: A study by the Justice Department shows 64 percent of local jail inmates, 56 percent of state prisoners and 45 percent of federal prisoners have symptoms of mental illness.

Quiz: How much money does it cost American taxpayers annually to house people with serious mental illness in jails and prisons?

A. $50 million
B. $500 million
C. $1 billion
D. More than $10 billion

The answer is D, to the tune of $15 billion.

“Early diagnoses, early intervention is really critical,” said Dr. Norris Turner, director of a health care quality unit at Johnson & Johnson Health Care Systems Inc.

Turner said alternative kinds of care are important, especially in areas where there is a shortage of mental health professionals. For example, pharmacists might give injections prescribed by psychiatrists, because there is always a pharmacy nearby even when a psychiatrist is not. Or, patients moving from in-patient to out-patient care need an effective transition or they could fall through the cracks. “Our products don’t work well when the system is broken,” he said.

Crisis intervention training for law enforcement can help officers identify the mentally ill and treat them accordingly, rather than dumping them into a criminal justice system that is often ill-equipped to deal with them.

Only one in three state prisoners and one in six jail inmates with mental illness were receiving treatment, the DOJ study found. About 15 percent were receiving medication.

Asked by a National Press Foundation fellow about Janssen products in the psychiatric space, Turner listed Haldol, Risperdal, Invega and variations of those drugs.

This program is funded by The Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies. NPF is solely responsible for the content.

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