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by Peter Moskos

December 18, 2015

Cause 911 is cheaper than a shrink

Here's a report with some numbers on the problem of untreated mental illness and police response.

Bottom line, according to these numbers:

About two percent of Americans have untreated severe mental illness.

Those two percent of people account for 10 percent of police responses, 20 percent of those behind bars, and 25 percent of fatal police encounters.

I was going to joke how it's easier to blame the police than treat mental illness. But I don't even know if that's true. We just choose to treat mental illness with police and incarceration. That's messed up.

[Thanks to a reader]


Concerned citizen said...

Some of the brightest minds among us--on both sides of the political aisle-- thought it was a great idea to empty the mental hospitals and close them down.

Hence, the population shift from mental hospitals to prisons.

A PBS Frontline article states:

"The magnitude of deinstitutionalization of the severely mentally ill qualifies it as one of the largest social experiments in American history."

"In effect, approximately 92 percent of the people who would have been living in public psychiatric hospitals in 1955 were not living there in 1994."

Moskos said...

That's certainly part of the picture. But I tend to think the link is a bit overstated. I talk about this on pp 84-85 in "In Defense of Flogging":

In 1965 we had 335,000 people in prison and 800,000 in mental institutions (which were prison-like in many ways). 800,000 was and is a huge number! The number today is almost negligible.

If we still played by 1965 rules on detention, we would currently have 1.8 million people in our mental and criminal institutions combined. (500,000 fewer than we have prison today).

Prisoners tend to be young while people in mental hospitals were much older. In some ways they served as old folks homes for the poor who couldn't be cared for.

All that said, of course some of the people who were in mental hospital prisons should have stayed there. But a huge chunk of that 92 percent are now either old people cared for through Medicare or people with mental issues but who can treated with medicines then unavailable.