Improve Mental Health Care for the Imprisoned


Target: U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder

Goal: Improve mental health care in correctional facilities and curb the abuse of the mentally ill

Eighty mentally ill inmates in the U.S. have died from abuse or neglect since 2003, according to a BBC Panorama investigation. Incarcerated in the U.S. are more than 1 million people with mental health problems. Currently, the infrastructure to treat and rehabilitate the mentally ill does not exist. Instead, they face abuse and neglect at the hands of guards not trained to appropriately deal with mental health concerns.

There are now ten times more mentally ill inmates in the U.S. than there were ten years ago. According to the Crime Report 2010 audit in three Wisconsin prisons, “between 55 and 76 percent of inmates in segregation [solitary confinement] are mentally ill.” Across the country, for every twenty mentally ill prisoners there is only one psychiatric hospital bed.

A litany of complaints in the past few years have been filed against correctional facilities over egregious human rights violations. Mentally ill individuals have been beaten, restrained for inordinate amounts of time, and even killed. In 2009, 23-year-old Joshua Messier died after being violently restrained by guards. Also, in 2011, Carlos Umana died of dehydration and starvation after being held for four months at the Salt Lake County Jail, much of that in solitary confinement. The 20-year-old suffered from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. When he entered the jail, Umana weighed 180 pounds; when he died he was barely 77 pounds.

Tell the U.S. Justice Department to increase the level of psychiatric care in U.S. correctional facilities. Without further investment in this overlooked and marginalized population, criminal abuse will undoubtedly continue.


Dear Attorney General Eric Holder,

Mentally ill prisoners are routinely abused in our country’s correctional facilities. Over half of all inmates in solitary confinement suffer from mental illness, and there is a severe lack of mental health facilities within prison walls. Those needing careful medical attention are more often than not abused and/or neglected by those charged with their well-being. Numerous cases of criminal malfeasance have arisen which shed light on this alarming condition.

The shutdown of dedicated mental health asylums in the 1950s, combined with inadequate training of correctional officers, has created an untenable situation in prisons. In fact, several deaths have been reported as a result of the misappropriation of force when it came to interacting with untreated mental patients.

I urge you to allocate the proper resources necessary to improve psychiatric care in correctional facilities.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Djarter via Wikimedia Commons

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