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Mental Illness in Corrections and in a Public Setting: Correction officers’ Knowledge

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Have you ever wondered what happened to the people who are mentally ill and locked up in prisons by police officers? It is surprising to some people in the public who think people who are mentally ill need to be locked up or not in public. This is important, because there are a lot of people who do not have a strong perception of what a person with mental illness has to go through. The public, police officers, and even higher ups in the prison systems need to have a better learning system in place for these types of people. Where this is happening is all around the world. Our focus is just on the United States prison systems, but it does happen in every country. People also need to have a background in what is a person with a mental illness is considered and some background history, different personality traits about the mental illness, the rates of locking up the mentally ill, if there is any training from the police, if police officers or corrections officers can have better knowledge of what to do with the mentally ill, and a childhood experience. If police officers had better knowledge and more training to deal with mentally ill people, can it help bring down incarceration?

History of Mental Illness in Corrections

Beginning with you need to know what is considered someone to be mentally ill and some history of mental illness. As we all know, we know people who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Schizophrenia, and bi-polar disorder (etc.) are all considered people who have a mental illness. In some case we know some people have very mild cases of their mental illness and others have some extreme cases. People who have it mild take their medication, see a doctor a regular basis, and perform their daily tasks. Then people who have extreme cases of mental illness have a hard time going out into the public, communicating with others, and are usually off their medication if not supervised.

Now there is a history with institutionalization of the mentally ill. It is known that institutions have appeared back in the early 1900s, were they housed people who have had problems with their mental health. During the time period of the early 1900’s, “small, treatment-oriented facilities morphed into overcrowded custodial institutions”. Since institutions were built, it housed a lot of people who have some type of disordered. Then many years later we introduced deinstitutionalization of the housing the mentally ill, which led people to put the mentally ill in jails or prisons. There were three different forces that led to deinstitutionalization that led patients into correction facilities. The three forces included the developments of psychiatric drugs that could help patients, programs and money to help development of treatments, and public knowledge of the mentally ill and help with the acceptance.

Personality Traits of Cognitive and Affect Dysregulation

Added on, you can also include the personality traits of a person by determining their cognitive ability and the affect dysregulation (deals with the different types of mental illness) What does it mean by their cognitive ability and affect dysregulation? There was a study done by Monika Dargis and Michael Koenigs, who collected data on inmates in medium security prisons in Wisconsin. The study did a test on 2,388 adult males incarcerated. Cognitive ability refers to their intelligence level, level of education or reading, and then their working memory. For the intelligence part they used the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale to test the inmate’s cognitive level. This was used to help to determine if they could solve puzzles and to define vocabulary words. For education and reading a Wide Range Achievement Test was used to see if the inmates could repeat a series of words back to someone.

For their memory testing they did digits backwards type tests. For this test a professional would a number list and then the inmate had to recite it backwards. To test depression, they used a test called “The Beck Depression Inventory”, which is a self-report that measures attitudes or symptoms of depression. For anxiety they used the “The State- Trait Anxiety Inventory”, which has 40 self-item reporting measure. Then they last mental illness they tested was Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. They used the “PTSD checklist but on a civilian level”. In this case it tested for stressful situations. Their results of conclude in a general sense, that inmates with mental disorders have a very low rate of being aggressive and violent.

Rates of the mental illness in Prisons and Jails

Moving on, there are tons of rates of the mentally ill going into corrections and from the general population. Most of the rates we have increased a whole lot since the time of deinstitutionalization. Prison and jails have increased a whole a lot and still are increasing. The rates have increased in the state and federal prisons and then also in local jails. It is narrowed down to people who had any mental health problems, had symptoms of mental health disorder, or a recent history. For state prisons there was a 56.2% with any mental health problem, 49.2% that had symptoms, and then 24.3% who had a recent history. For federal prisons there was 44.8% for any mental health, 39.8% for had symptoms, and 13.8% who had recent history . For local jails 64.2 % had any mental disorder, 60.5% had symptoms of mental health, and 20.6% had recent history. From these rates you can see how high some of them are for people who have mental disorders.

In the public, most people do not know what to do if they see someone who has a health problem. If a mentally ill person starts acting out, the community does not know how to act and end up calling the police. Most police officers do not have the knowledge of calming down people with disorders or how to help them. When an officer gets control they just lock them up in jails and if they hurt an officer it can lead them to jails or prisons. Local jails have the highest rates, because officers will pick up the person and just transport them to the jails since there is not many mental health hospitals left. Then are different main types of disorders that we normally see in the prisons. In state prisons and in jails we see, “serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, or major depression with psychotic”.

Police Officers knowledge about Mental Illness

Now let us move on to talking about the police officer or correction officers and their knowledge about mental health inmates or offenders. Most police officers do not have much knowledge about mental health inmates or offenders. There are very few officers who do know what to do, because they have been in situations like it beforehand. In studies there has been work done saying “little work evaluating the experience of people with mental disorders”. If officers had their knowledge of dealing with the mentally ill then it can help ease a hard situation and make it less intense for the person with the problem. It can be beneficial for the officer and the community around them, because it would bring down less problems and less incarceration rates on an innocent person with mental illness. For a person who has a mental illness, it can be very rough on them if they are locked up.

For them being locked up for twenty-four hours for seven days a week, they need to make sure they receive their medication daily routines are in order, and a knowledge of how to handle them if they have an episode. If an inmate has an episode in jail or prison, most of the officers sedate them and put them in strait jackets and send them to the psych ward in the jail or prison for observation. If they are not thrown in the psych ward, corrections officers would throw them in solitary confinement. Knowing in most “Adults with disabilities are at a higher risk of violence” which is compared to people who do not have a disability. Then with knowledge of people who do not have their mind straight “those with mental illnesses could be particularly vulnerable”.

Life in Solitary Confinement for Mentally Ill

For solitary confinement it takes a big toll on people who do not have a mental illness. You can find any videos or talk about solitary confinement and the toll it can take on prisoners. Good places to look for our documentary’s on Netflix or Frontline. For a person with no disabilities by the time they are in solitary confinement they want to commit suicide or tend to lose their mindset. Solitary confinement you are locked in a room by yourself for twenty-three hours of the day with no windows, very strict diet, and only an hour of social time by being handcuffed or locked in a metal box. Having all of these problems’ correction officers thinks everything is perfect for them and in reality, it is not. The thoughts that are running through these inmates’ heads is the need to commit suicide to make all the madness go away. Many have succeeded of committing suicide if the guards are not watching closely and other times many fail and are rushed to medical care, then to the psych ward for evaluation.

Reducing Mental Illness in Corrections

In the community, treatments and techniques were designed to help officers reduce the rates of recidivism for people with mental illness. Having these treatments and following different techniques can help officers not keep mentally ill locked up, make sure they are surviving in a prison setting, and getting the help they actually need. There has been a program that has been implemented for officers called “Stepping Up”. The program has been designed to help reduce the rates of people with a mental disorder being thrown in jail. Many states who have following this “Stepping Up” act have seen a reduce rate of mentally ill being thrown in jail or prison. This program included having professionals with a background in mental disability and officers who wanted to participate to help with this. In most situations’ officers find it really hard of how to deal with someone who has an episode. If an officer can “reduce the level of distress with ASD”. Having that reduced situation can help all parties be calm, relaxed, and no sudden outburst against others in a community. There have been situations were officers had to contain a situation with a person who was waving a weapon around and third party tried to get involved. Then the sick person ends up hurting that third party and officers have to excessive force on them.

Childhood being a Factor for Cause of Disorders

In early childhood of most inmates we know that there is this lack of a social bond to them. There is more of a lack of a social bond from guardian to child if the child has some special need or mental disorder. If there is a single-parent household, the parent can have a very hard time taking care of their child with a mental disorder. For example, let us use schizophrenia. For schizophrenia, there are many different factors that led to people offending who had them. Two factors that are focused on are “substance abuse and history of childhood conduct disorder”. Substance abuse is a huge factor, because schizophrenia does not usually show up until a person is in their twenty’s. Before-hand though they could have been using drugs all the way up until they were diagnosed.

For the childhood conduct disorder having an unstable household can lead children to offending and later on being an offender as they are older. People have seen if there is a strong family bond that there can be treatment and help for the children and when they are mentally diagnosed. There is less chance of crime rate going up and then the mentally ill being placed in a bad situation in jail or prison. Treatments and counseling can help any situation for people who need it and if “psychiatric treatment, may provide a cheaper and longer-lasting solution to preventing crime”. Counseling easily helps children and even as adults help from having an episode and being putting in the jails or prisons.


In conclusion, this topic is hugely important, because it shows us what a different it can make for people with mental disabilities. The officers have a better knowledge and can handle situations easier in public. If police officers had better knowledge and more training to deal with mentally ill people, can it help bring down incarceration? To answer this question, yes it does! If officers had the knowledge, resources, and professional help it can change a lot for people with mental disabilities. It would have less people in the jails or prisons, most of them are not even violent (most are just scared) and they do less harm than people who are actually in prison. There should be a lot more research done in this topic and try different programs to help in any way possible. For the “Stepping Up” program, it has a huge success rate and brings down incarceration rates. The program is not very expensive and can help save a lot of money and put away actual violent offenders.

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