Ralph M. Rivera


Beginning in the early 1950s and '60s, states began to close their public mental health hospitals. This process was known as "deinstitutionalization." In recent years, following the massive wave of deinstitutionalization, a substantial number of institutionalized persons with mental disabilities were relocated from civil mental hospitals into jails and prisons, Despite this shift in population, correctional facilities remain ill-equipped to handle and deal with offenders with mental disabilities. One study found that approximately 6.5-10% of inmates suffered from a serious mental illness, while another 15-40% suffered from a moderate mental illness. Another study done by the Bureau of Justice Statistics indicated that 16% or an estimated 283,800 inmates were identified as being mentally ill by mid-year 1998. Cheri Nolan, Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Office of Justice Programs, testified to Congress that "the increasing number of people with mental illness in the criminal justice system is one of the most pressing issues facing our police departments, jails, prisons, and courts." Despite such statistics, offenders' rights to mental health treatment have been slow to reach many of incarcerated inmates who require treatment. With the signing into law of the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act of 2004, government agencies and health care providers will now be able to act more proactively in attempting to reduce the amount of crime committed by mentally ill individuals. But only time will tell how such legislation will help combat the problem of the inadequacy of mental health treatment that mentally ill offenders receive while incarcerated. This Note will examine the evolution of health care rights that incarcerated persons are afforded, specifically looking at the rights to mental health treatment. Through this process, the many problems will be illustrated that this issue creates, and look towards the future at what could be done by examining what currently works and what is still needed to alleviate the problem of mentally ill offenders.