The Effects of Mental Illness Within the Prison System

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Mental illness inside the prison system could be declared as one of the greatest plagues occuring within the Department of Justice system. With intercessions being put into place, such as mental health courts, to help with lowering the rate of recidivism within the correctional system (Skeem; 2011). Some of the most predominant and seriously troubling mental illnesses within the prison population are schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression (Skeem; 2011). Within the state of New Jersey, the prison population is about 20,000 people housed in thirteen different correctional facilities (State; 2018). The annual budget for the NJDOC: New Jersey Department of Corrections is currently sitting around almost $1 billion dollars (State; 2018).

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Within the state of New Jersey, the department of corrections has employed a Mental Health Residential Community Release program. The goal of this program is to successfully reintegrate inmates with mental illness back into society and providing continual care and extra help to those who are special needs inmates, so that the chance of re-entry into the corrections system isn’t as much of an issue (State; ND). Some of the goals of the Mental Health RCRP are to allow the opportunity of on-site mental health services. Alongside these health servies, is a goal to enhance access to pharmacy services, and to make compact community connections for those with special needs that are inmates returning to the community (State; ND: 3). Part of the issue of re-entry into society for a mental health patient is when there isn’t any access to the financial resources, the lack of actual health care available, to be paired with the fact that they don’t have the readily available funds and little or no access to the documents necessary to declare their entitlements (State; ND: 3). In my personal opinion this shows that New Jersey isn’t taking mental illness lightly, and are actively trying to better the inmate population affected by mental illness. I can absolutely understand how access to essential documents would hinder the reintegration of inmates with healthy mentalities let alone those individuals who are special needs. It’s my personal opinion that steps to better help integration of the inmate population needs to happen in totality to help recidivation.

Other aspects of the correctional system I plan on focusing on within this paper are work release, after care planning for the mentally ill and education. The state of New Jersey subscribes to the idea that it’s important to help the mentally ill connect with the outside world, so that when it is time for them to be released they have the skills and the aptitude to succeed within the community (State; ND: 5). Work release was started in 1913 by Wisconsin’s Huber Law (Grupp; 1963). Work release is defined as “the prisoner is employed outside the jail during working hours and returns to the jail at the close of the work day” (Grupp; 1963: 267). Usually prisoners who have the opportunity to utilize work release are those accused of misdemeanors (Grupp; 1963). With this in mind it puts into reality the need for those with mental illness to need extra help with work release opportunities, such as the program New Jersey employs.

Education within the prison system is another factor that can help with recidivism rates, along with helping violence rates decrease (Vacca; 1974). “Effective education programs are those that help prisoners with their social skills, artistic development and techniques and strategies to help them deal with their emotions” (Vacca; 1974: 297). With these additions to prison, it can help those with mental illness realize their potential and help them reach goals outside of the prison system.

After care planning for the mentally ill can work hand in hand with the education aspect of reintegration into society. The New Jersey Mental Health Residential Community Release program tailors it’s program services to specific inmates and their needs, such as treatment, job readiness skills, employment counseling, education and vocational programs are all included in the inmate’s treatment plan (State; 2018: 6). This program also works with the inmates family to help establish connections, parenting skills, future housing, connection to a career center and any and all areas of life the inmate may be having difficulty with (State; 2018: 6).

In conclusion I have found that there is an imperative need for reintegration into society for the mentally ill, and that with the added help from the state prisoners have a greater chance of living and full life outside of the prison system.

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