Timothy A. Johnston
In this paper I will discuss how the increase of mental disorders within prisons and jails has changed the way these institutions handle their day to day operations. From screening processes to treatments and how correctional officers play a major role within these procedures.
Merriam-Webster defines mental disorder as “a mental or bodily condition marked primarily by sufficient disorganization of personality, mind, and emotions to seriously impair the normal psychological functioning of the individual.” Throughout the years mental institutions have been developed to keep the mentally ill off the streets and into a place where they can receive the necessary treatment they require. Prisons and jails were not designed for that reason but it seems they have become more common for the mentally ill. Research by James and Glaze (2006) suggests that in 2005 more than half of all prison and jail inmates had a mental health problem (James & Glaze, 2006). This is becoming a major issue within jails and prisons and these institutions have had to change the way they operate. In this paper I will discuss how the inmates are screened for mental disorders, how they are cared for, and what role correctional officers play in managing them.
Numerous studies have shown that jail and prison inmates have a significantly higher rate of mental disorders (e.g., bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia and other psychoses) than that of the general population. Being incarcerated can worsen these symptoms, therefore, increasing the risk of harming themselves or others. Because of this, it is important for these institutions to have a screening process in order, and most of them do. But due to the arrival of large numbers of inmates, corrections officers have limited time for this process. The National Institute of Justice funded researchers who developed two screening methods likely to work. They are the Correctional Mental Health Screen (CMHS) and the Brief Jail Mental Health Screen (BJMHS), (Ford et al., 2007, p. 2).
The CMHS is different for males and females. The version for women (CMHS-W) consists of only eight yes/no questions, and the version for men (CMHS-M) consists of twelve yes/no questions. Each contains questions regarding current and lifetime indications of mental disorders. These screens only take about 3-5 minutes to complete and just about any intake officer can administer them. If a male answers yes to six or more questions, and a female answers yes to five or more questions, they are referred to further evaluation (Ford et al., 2007, p. 2).
The BJMHS is similar to the CMHS but only consists of eight questions for both males and females, and only takes 2-3 minutes to complete. Six questions are asked about current mental disorders and two are asked about history of mental disorders. Those who answer yes to two questions on current disorders or one to past history are referred to further examination (Ford et al., p. 2).
In the state of Illinois the biggest county is Cook County, where Chicago is located. According the Cook County Sheriff’s website, the sheriff contracts out the mental health screening process to a company called Be Well Partners. They provide on-site psychologists to evaluate inmates and place them in the appropriate setting.
As mentioned above, jails and prisons are not designed to treat those with mental disorders, but because of the large percentage of inmates with them, they are forced to come up with a treatment plan. Because of limited resources (e.g., time, space and money) the most common form of treatment for inmates with mental disorders is given by medication (Brandt, 2012). Although we know medication is used, it is unsure whether it is used to treat the illness or only to control the symptoms to make it easier for the staff. Medication is not adequate treatment by