Mental Health in Penal Systems

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Mental health problems are something many of us ignore.

It’s an issue that when left untreated lands many people behind bars.

Right now there are about 5-thousand people in Alabama’s prison system that have been diagnosed with a mental health problem.

Officials say many of those incarcerated could have escaped hard time if their mental problem was caught before prison.

"Most of the time, people have a problem and they're not aware of it. They realize they aren't quite thinking the same way, but they don't realize until they get to that crisis point," says Zoe Newby, with the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

It costs Alabama taxpayers nearly $13-million dollars for mental health care in Alabama’s Department of Corrections.

Medications alone ring up a $1.5 million dollar bill.

"That's just something bubbling up to the top. Mental health has been in the he penal system for a long time, for centuries. Now, it's becoming more evident that we need to do more work on the prevention side because the after effects are showing up in the prisons" says Dr. Virginia Mayer, Teacher, with the Living Waters Council.

There are challenges facing treatment of those with mental health problems in the penal system.

Topping the list is a shortage of psychiatrists, increased case loads and increased cost of medicine. And, area professionals say that's another reason why early diagnosis and community awareness is important in treating people with mental health issues.

Of the inmates in Alabama’s prison systems, 20-percent of male inmates are diagnosed with mental health problems; 36-percent of females incarcerated are diagnosed.