Cruel and Unusual: A Look Into Prisoner Mental Health Care

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Delgado Hipp, Adonia
Criminal Law; Health Law and Policy; Mental and Social Health
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The United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country (Blumstein & Wallman, 2000). In fact, the rate of incarceration is more than five times higher than most of the countries in the world. Recent studies indicate that “Crowded living quarters, lack of privacy, increased risk of victimization, and solitary confinement within the institution have been identified as strong correlates for self-harm and adaptation challenges for those with mental health conditions in prison settings” (Gonzalez et al., 2014). One of the greatest persistent injustices of modern criminal law is that not only are poor people and people of color disproportionately imprisoned, but a dominant root cause of much criminal activity is mental illness (Steinberg et al., 2015). Ten times as many mentally ill people are in prison and jail in America today than they are in mental health treatment facilities (Steinberg et al., 2015, p.2). In the Coleman v. Brown in 1990 and Plata v. Brown in 2001, both held that the delivery of medical and mental health care in prisons was so inadequate that it imposed cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the 8th Amendment (Chavira et al., 2016). Mental health care is imperative given that recidivism is higher for those with mental illness than without. The aim of this study is to investigate the conditions in prisons and identify barriers to mental health treatment and medication continuity—through in-depth interviews with an attorney, parole officer, youth correctional officer, and a recently released prisoner.