The White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) released a report in May on the economic costs of crime and the effectiveness of programs to reduce recidivism. The CEA found that, on average, programs that address the prisoner’s mental health or substance abuse problems may reduce the cost of crime by about $0.92 to $3.31 per taxpayer dollar spent on prison reform and long-run incarceration costs by $0.55 to $1.96, for a total return of $1.47 to $5.27 per taxpayer dollar. The CEA noted that the heaviest share of the crime burden is a result of high re-arrest rates and concluded to that the is evidence to support programs that focus on a prisoner’s mental health to prevent future crime.
The results of the study are not surprising and reiterate what activists, criminal justice professionals, and mental health professionals have been arguing for decades. Studies show that 26% of inmates in state and federal correctional facilities were diagnosed with a mental health condition and only 18% of those individuals were receiving treatment at the time of their arrest. The American Psychological Association estimates that the number of mentally ill inmates could be as high as 54%. Inmates who receive treatment for their mental illness while they are in prison are less likely to be rearrested.
Pilot programs in states such as Texas that provide support to inmates both inside prison and when it is time for them to be released, have shown promising results. Expanding services to mentally ill inmates increases their ability to successfully reintegrate into the community, find housing and employment, and become productive citizens. Some inmates may never have received mental illness treatment until they were incarcerated which is why funding for community mental health care in general is also needed. Research shows that increased funding for community mental health programs can also save taxpayer dollars. Diversion programs that help mentally ill individuals get treatment before they even step foot in jail, can also be helpful and cost saving. These programs have garnered more interest across the country as a means of decreasing prison populations and reduce recidivism.
If you or a loved one suffers from a mental illness and has been convicted of or arrested for a crime, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. Elizabeth Kelley specializes in representing individuals with mental illnesses and intellectual disabilities. To schedule a consultation call (509) 991-7058.