Drugs, mental illnesses, and jail or prison go hand-in-hand. Most people sent to jail and currently in jail have had or have a drug problem or a mental health disorder. Drug and alcohol abuse are a huge problem in America. Many mental illnesses go undiagnosed. These problems spill out into our justice system. Out of all the developed countries, America has the most prisons and prisoners in the world. Addiction and mental health are a big problem that needs a solution.
Drugs, Alcohol, and Mental Health
Almost half of the sentenced federal prisoners as of September 30, 2017 (the most recent date for which federal offense data are available) were serving time for drug trafficking, according to drugwarfacts.org. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 1.5 million people were arrested in a given year for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. That means that one out of every 121 licensed drivers were arrested for drunk driving. 1.2 million individuals living with mental illness sit in jail and prison each year. Those are extremely high numbers.
There is an addiction problem and an incarceration problem in the United States. Most prisons do not offer any treatment or medication for inmates. That fuels the illegal smuggling of drugs into jails and prisons. There is no way for an inmate to know what exactly they are ingesting. Inmates can even make their own alcohol, sometimes called hooch. The problem with making their own alcohol is there is no way to know what is in it or the alcohol content. Prisoners have found all different ways to smuggle all sorts of things into prison. Some inmates will find abandoned needles while cleaning the side of the road and bring them back to prison. That alone opens the door for all kinds of diseases to spread. They will even share needles.
Diseases are common in jails and prisons. The prevalence of chronic hepatitis C infection among prison inmates in the United States is between 12 and 35 percent, compared to about 1.3 percent in the non incarcerated population. It has been reported that little progress has been made in solving the drug abuse problem in America.
Mental health and addiction are two problems in prisons that are in desperate need of the attention they deserve. For example, the Los Angeles County Jail, Chicago’s Cook County Jail, or New York’s Riker’s Island Jail each hold more mentally ill inmates than any remaining psychiatric hospital in the United States. Overall, approximately 20% of inmates in jails and 15% of inmates in state prisons are now estimated to have a serious mental illness. Although it is uncommon, some prisons have implemented using certain withdrawal medications, like methadone, for addicts.
Helping addicts in jail or prisons helps those inmates with their drug or alcohol problems. The little data available shows that helping with drug and alcohol addictions while incarcerated can help addicts. Still, the best place for an addict to be is in rehab. Mentally ill people, especially with an addiction, need to be seen by medical professionals. That can and would help with the recidivism rate. A report released in January 2019 said 40% of prisoners had been to prison at least once since 2011. There are underlying issues, like addiction and mental health that if treated could decrease that number.
How To Help
There is no one answer to this problem. Helping addicts and people with mental illnesses has to begin before they end up in prisons. Drug addicts and alcoholics need to go to rehab. People with mental illnesses need to see a medical professional. It needs to be before they make a mistake that ends up costing them years of their lives. The number of people with these problems that have been or are currently incarcerated is so high, we need to begin looking at other solutions. A great place to start is at home.
Seeing our loved ones suffer is always hard, but a hard conversation is much easier than the other options. If you or a loved one or even a friend is suffering from an addiction or their mental health- say something. If you are struggling- seek out help. Addictions and mental illnesses going untreated will always progress. They will continue progressing and, unfortunately, just get worse.
There are safe places to help with these issues and that’s where people who are struggling need to be. Do not ever be afraid or too stubborn to ask for help. Asking for help is the strongest thing for someone to do. Asking for help is being brave. It can save a world of hurt for you, your family, your friends, and your community.