by Justin Volpe, Justin Volpe is a Certified Recovery Peer Specialist living in Miami.
Jails have become warehouses for those struggling with mental illness as well as drug addiction. Serious mental illness now affects about one in six men and almost one-third of women in jails, rates four to six times higher than in the general population. For people with serious mental illnesses, stigma often keeps them from seeking treatment, which is how they wind up in the criminal justice system. There are currently 10 times more mentally ill people in jails and prisons than in state mental health institutions; the vast majority of these people are in jail for non-serious offenses.
The results are tragic. Jamycheal Mitchell, a young man who, his family says, suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, was found dead in a Virginia jail cell in August. His death came four months after his arrest for stealing a Mountain Dew and a few dollars’ worth of snacks. His family believes he starved after refusing to take meals. Earlier this month, three jail deputies in Santa Clara County, Calif., were arrested under suspicion of murder in the death of Michael James Tyree, another young man with a history of mental illness. Tyree, who died of internal bleeding due to trauma, was being held on misdemeanor drug and theft charges.