Friday, April 20, 2007

Texas Solicitor General: 'A great many people' suffer from mental illness in prison

Arguments at the US Supreme Court over capital punishment this week shed new and unflattering light on the status of the mentally ill in Texas prisons. Doc Berman links to the transcript from oral arguments in the Panetti case, and predicts the decision will have more symbolic than precedential value. However he highlights this telling quote from Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz that merits Grits readers' attention:
In our prisons there are unfortunately a great many people suffering from some degree of mental illness.... [An extreme] sort of delusion unfortunately is not uncommon on death row and it is not uncommon in prisons for paranoia -- the testimony of one of Panetti's experts, Doctor Conroy said, quote, "The major portion of our population in our in-patient units are diagnosed with some form of schizophrenia."
Well at least the state's attorney isn't denying it! As mentioned previously, three in ten Texas inmates are past clients of the state's indigent mental health system. The April 2007 Harper's Index contains some telling statistics that let us know that condition isn't unique, but only manifests an extremist version of a national trend:
  • Percentage of American adults held in either prisons or mental institutions in 1953 and today, respectively: 0.67, 0.68
  • Percentage ofthese adults in 1953 who were in mental institutions: 75
  • Percentage today who are in prisons: 97
So while the Supremes focus on whether we should execute the insane, it's becoming increasingly obvious to me that incarcerating the mentally ill is a major unaddressed civil rights dilemma, both in Texas and pretty much everywhere else in the country.

More on Panetti from the StandDown blog here and here, and from SCOTUSBlog here and here. CrimProf blog reports on the UT Austin Capital Punishment Clinic's participation in the case.

5 comments:

Patrick Timmons said...

I think you'll want to have a look at Bernard Harcourt's work at the University of Chicago. His analysis about changes over time in institutionalization is very complex. I think it is fair to say, based on Harcourt's research, that we haven't just shifted the same population out of mental health services and into prisons. There's a bit more nuance required here, as it has much to do with who was in the mental health institutions and who is now in prisons. Without the nuanced detail it's impossible to figure out the way in which we now use prisons as "catcall solutions to manage social problems." (The quote is from Ruth Wilson Gilmore, _Golden Gulag_.

Anonymous said...

WOW! Interesting statistics - 97% of mentally ill in prison. That doesn't say much for advances in the Science of Psychiatry. And don't even start on social policy!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Thanks, Patrick - At least one big, obvious difference is that today's prisons are full of black men and the mental hospitals of the 40s and 50s were full of white women. I agree there's certainly more to consider in comparing historical epochs than just broad brush stats. But the fact that 30% of today's Texas INMATES are prior clients of the indigent mental health system to me does imply such a "catcall solution" is in play." best,

Anonymous said...

I think there is some confusion...12:16. 97% of the mentally ill are not in prison, rather of the mentally ill who are in institutions 97% are in prison as compared to a mental hospital. Yes, we thought it was a great idea to throw open the gates back in the 70's (after the abuse at Rusk State Hospital) and somehow the community was unable to provide the necessary supports (maybe they were never there or never funded)...Sounds a little like what is happening now with TYC...we will see the consequences of this "great reform." Speaking of great reform isn't all this stuff just normal standards of practice in other states and hasn't Central Office been lobbying the legislature regarding most of these things for the past 10 years...ever since the policies of W and Perry tripled the size of TYC and then they cut the budget two years ago?

Jaime Kenedeño said...

You might want to refer to Saldano v State.

Does the Great State of Texas have a Solicitor General?