Monday, September 23, 2013

On the relationship between mental illness and prison violence

Brandi Grissom at the Texas Tribune has an excellent story published yesterday about the relationship between mental illness and violence inside Texas prisons. Here are some notable excerpts:
The most violent prisons in the Texas state system share a common factor: They house a high proportion of mentally ill inmates.

The Texas Tribune analyzed violent-incident data from 99 state prisons from 2006 to 2012, and found far more incident reports at facilities housing high numbers of mentally ill, violent offenders than at other prisons. ...

Among the five units with the highest number of reports are the state’s three psychiatric facilities. In addition, the William P. Clements Unit, which is not a psychiatric facility, but houses 1,800 mentally ill inmates among a population of 3,500, is in that group, according to Texas Department of Criminal Justice data. ...

From 2006 to 2012, Clements inmates and officers were involved in about 6,600 violent incidents — those in which an assault was alleged, force was used, a weapon was involved or a disturbance was reported — outpacing all other prisons. On average, there were more than 25 reports for every 100 prisoners each year. In those years, there were 77 allegations of sexual assaults at Clements and 264 incidents in which inmates lobbed bodily fluids.
According to the reports, officers used chemical agents to subdue inmates more than 1,500 times, and offenders were found with weapons on 411 occasions.
After dipping significantly from 2006 to 2007, the number of violent incidents at Clements rose to 1,093 in 2011 and more than 900 in 2012 from fewer than 800 in 2007.

[UT LBJ School instructor] Deitch called the numbers “overwhelming.” But Clements is not the most violent per capita. Reports of violent incidents are more prevalent at smaller institutions that house only psychiatric patients. At the John Montford Psychiatric Unit in Lubbock, the average of violent incident reports was 43 per 100 inmates from 2006 to 2012. The Beauford H. Jester IV Unit near Richmond, which houses some of the most violent mentally ill inmates in the system, had 41 incident reports per 100 inmates during that time. The average for the 99 Texas prisons analyzed by the Tribune was less than 8 per 100. ...

The state system is facing an increase in prisoners requiring psychiatric care, a trend seen in the criminal justice system nationwide in recent decades. The number of inmates treated for mental illness by the University of Texas Medical Branch, which provides most inmate care in Texas prisons, grew from about 14,500 in August 2008 to nearly 17,900 in August 2012. More than 15 percent of the more than 151,000 inmates have been given a diagnosis of some form of mental illness.
Jails and prisons are the main institutions through which American society presently manages mental illness - one of the great tragedies of our generation and one for which there is seemingly no solution in sight. SEE ALSO: A sidebar from the Trib titled, "Psychiatric prisons see more violence."

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