Demand Better Mental Health Care for Prisoners

Target: Thomas Turco, Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Correction

Goal: Improve health care options, access, and skills training in Massachusetts prisons.

Recidivism is generally high in the United States, with prisoners released into a an often unforgiving “real world” with few skills or resources. However, the rate of reincarceration increases notably for people with mental illness or addiction. According to a 2012 analysis from the Department of Correction in Massachusetts, 37 percent of inmates with mental illnesses will be locked up again within three years of release. For folks battling addiction, that percentage rises to 50. Intuitively, inmates dealing with both mental illness and substance addiction fare the worst.

State prisons in Massachusetts have suffered from a lack of funding for mental health resources in recent years – especially since 2013, when mental health care services were taken over by a for-profit company. Massachusetts’ spending on health care for its 10,000 “regular” inmates (excluding civilly committed patients at state detox centers) is among the lowest in the nation. On top of this, the general culture in prisons is antithetical to mental health and recovery. Ubiquitous intimidation and aggression in a prison environment hardly help to build to trust and openness, which are essential in a therapeutic setting.

Seven out of 15 prisons – nearly 50 percent – in Massachusetts are designated “health professional shortage areas,” for mental health specifically, employing fewer than one single psychiatrist per 2,000 inmates. Considering that keeping even one person out of prison saves the state more than $50,000 per year, there should be a very clear financial incentive for the state to invest more in rehabilitation, both in and out of prisons. Sign our petition to tell the state of Massachusetts to improve mental health care for incarcerated folks, and direct additional resources to ease the transition from incarceration to freedom.


Dear Commissioner Turco,

I am writing with an urgent request to improve the state of mental health care in Massachusetts state prisons. As you may know, a recent piece by the Boston Globe exposed the staggering rates of recidivism for folks struggling with mental illnesses and addiction, along with drops in funding for mental health care.

Since a for-profit company took over mental health services in state prisons in 2013, spending has decreased by $3.7 million, and many believe care is falling short. Private business interests should be divorced from prisons altogether, but especially from mental health needs, which are sensitive and deserve thorough attention.

It’s difficult in the present day to imagine prison as a place of healing, learning, and personal growth, but this is what prison should be. Inmates deserve a second chance when their sentences are over, but the system is stacked against them – especially those with addiction and mental illness. It is in the state’s financial interest to keep people out of prison. For this reason, if for no other, the state should invest in better care for inmates, and better rehabilitation measures, skill training, and continued care for the transition out of prison.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Applewood Valley United Methodist Church

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One Comment

  1. Gen Lovyet Agustsson says:

    stop privatizing prisons now

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