A Healthy Blog

Massachusetts health care — wonky, with a healthy dose of reality

Prison Is Not Treatment: Part 2

Prison Is Not Treatment: Part 2

December 17, 2009

Back in August, we wrote a blog about young people with mental health needs ending up in prison for lack of community resources.

While it doesn’t take much of an intellectual leap to imagine how inappropriate this setting would be for mentally ill youth, earlier this week, the New York Times published a story highlighting the conditions faced by these young people.

Most official estimates of the numbers of young people involved with the juvenile justice system who have mental health needs are typically in the 75% range. Talk to anyone who is familiar with the system, and they will tell you the percentage is much higher.

Locking up a mentally ill young person does not address the underlying reason why they were imprisoned in the first place, and without adequate treatment while incarcerated, the reasons are not going to go away.

As the Times article shows, youth correctional facilities are dramatically unsuited to address mental health needs of inmates.

We must get out in front of this issue – not only should we improve treatment for those behind bars, but we have to do more to identify and treat mental health needs early. Only then can we hope to reduce the numbers of young people involved with the juvenile justice system.

Matt Noyes