Mental health treatment has come a long way since the lobotomy was deemed worthy of a Nobel Prize, but today’s patients are more likely to end up behind bars instead of in professional care.
It’s an expensive, ineffective way to administer mental health services, Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office officials said during a Wednesday presentation on the issue. And if taxpayers want to spend less money on incarceration, they’ll first need the criminal justice system to redefine how it handles offenders in need of psychiatric care.
There are criminals and those accused of crimes who “have to be locked up, but there are certain categories of individuals that could use something different,” Corrections Director Rob Reardon said.
Reardon and Marie Collins, who manages treatment programs for the Sheriff’s Office, doled out statistics at the public safety complex on West Willow Street in a two-hour presentation.
Among the facts presented:
In 1880, 40,000 of the nation’s mentally ill were in hospitals, 41,000 were in mental homes and 387 were in jails.
About 77 percent of the mentally ill were in treatment facilities in 1955, while 26 percent were receiving such treatment by the ’90s — even though the number of mental episodes increased by 500 percent.
In 1970, there were 200 beds in mental health facilities available per 100,000 U.S. citizens. In 2005 — after mental health treatment had become deinstitutionalized — that number diminished to 17.
Today, 45 percent of federal inmates have mental health issues, 56 percent of state inmates and about 65 percent of inmates at the local level.
The last statistic is worth noting: A good deal of public mental health treatment has been relegated to local jails generally ill-equipped — both operationally and financially — to effectively handle such a population, Reardon said.
“We’re not solving the problem of mental illness,” Reardon said.
Reardon told of one inmate arrested on a count of misdemeanor theft for stealing orange juice. During the man’s monthlong stay in the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center, he saw the jail’s mental health professionals daily.
But when the man went before a judge on his 31st day in jail, he was released with credit for time served. His treatment stopped, and he was sent back into society as he was before: homeless.
One month of daily treatment for that man cost the jail about $10,000, but he was not able to complete a solid treatment program and will likely be arrested again, Reardon said.
“It would be so much more efficient to sentence (mentally ill inmates) for three or even five months” so they can get the treatment they need, Reardon said.
Which brings up another issue: Jails are not hospitals. But LPCC’s 10 mental health professionals treat every type of mental ailment, from depression to addiction to personality disorders, Collins said.
In recent years, the Sheriff’s Office has implemented behavioral and addictive treatment programs — both for inmates and the public — that serve about 500 people a year. Within the jail, about 1,000 inmates per year receive behavioral health services, and a recently increased focus on youth offenders aims to catch mental health issues before those young people become adults caught up in the criminal justice system.
These are early efforts to change the way mental health is addressed in Louisiana’s criminal justice system, which incarcerates 846 people per 100,000 residents — the highest rate in the country, which holds the world record for incarceration rate.
“If we can divert them to never come into jail at all, then we’ve really done a service,” Collins said.
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or contact her by phone at (337) 534-0825.