In 1837, social reformer Dorothea Dix recognized that mentally ill individuals should not be imprisoned but cared for in public institutions. During her lifetime, she led a campaign to remove mentally ill people from U.S. prisons and successfully helped to establish mental hospitals throughout the United States and Europe.
In the 1960s, there was a trend to move patients out of those mental hospitals and back into the community. But the vision of replacing mental hospitals with community-based treatment never happened.
A lack of funding along with poorly organized community health services makes it difficult for people with mental illness to get help. As a result, many are homeless, poor, and struggling with substance abuse or behavior problems. These difficulties often lead to criminal behaviors which result in incarceration.
Currently there are three times more mentally ill individuals in U.S. prisons and jails than in mental hospitals. These inmates suffer from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression and psychotic disorders and our justice system is ill-equipped to care for them.
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