Locking Away Mental Illness

In 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed into law a landmark piece of legislation titled the Community Mental Health Act (CMHA). Its purpose was to redirect funds from state-run asylums and into mental health centers within communities.  The ultimate goal was for patients from these state-run institutions to be reintroduced into their communities and become contributing members of society. Riding on the waves of this legislation, other laws passed throughout the 1970’s and 80’s which ultimately dismantled state-run mental asylums altogether. Before these laws were passed, there was mounting evidence coming out that these institutions were riddled poor oversight and care for patients.

While these laws are hailed as major steps in mental health rights, these laws weren’t perfect by any means. While the CMHA had good intentions, funding for these community health centers never came and many patients became homeless as health centers became overburdened. Over the years, many of these patients were thrown in jail or prison.  The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated in 2007 that 705,600 people with mental illnesses were in either jail or prison. This includes people with severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Furthermore, the environment of jail or prison only exacerbates many of the problems of mental illness instead of treating it. There are some mental illnesses such as paraphilias or borderline personality disorder coincide with criminality. However, the vast majority of people with mental illnesses are more likely to harm themselves than others.


  1. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/04/30/a-shocking-number-of-mentally-ill-americans-end-up-in-prisons-instead-of-psychiatric-hospitals/?utm_term=.4361a89d90d6
  2. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dustin-demoss/prison-mental-illness_b_6867988.html