Graduation Year


Date of Submission


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Reader 1

Wei-Chin Hwang

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© 2017 Katherine Daifotis


During the past 60 years, United States prisons have become one of the primary institutions caring for mentally ill individuals. Factors such as privatization of mental health care with a focus on profit-maximization, ineffective jail diversion programs, and unsuccessful mental health courts have contributed to prisons having an increased population of mentally ill inmates. In fact, about 20% of people who are currently incarcerated suffer from a major mental illness (Mason, 2007). Other elements outside of the justice system such as a lack of mental health awareness and a lack of resources have led to damaging interactions between the mentally ill and law enforcement and have added to this growing rate of mentally ill incarcerated. Given the harsh realities of prison, this overrepresentation of those suffering from mental illness is even more concerning and is worsened by aspects of prisons such as solitary confinement. This issue coupled with the lack of appropriate mental health care services being provided and the lack of support after release has led those suffering from mental illness to be potentially worse off than when they entered prison. This paper focuses on mental health care in prisons from admittance to post-release and provides evidence for the need to overhaul how those suffering from mental illness are treated. The responsibility of mental health care has been placed on prisons due to the escalation of inmates with mental illness, the failure of programs inside the justice system, and the lack of post-release follow-up. The physical setting, behavioral interactions, and personnel influences in prisons have led to worsening symptoms and have inhibited the ability to effectively treat these inmates. Given 95% of inmates will be released, these issues need to be addressed more comprehensively for the benefit of our society as a whole (Binswanger, Nowels, Corsi, Long, Booth, Jutner, & Steiner, 2011).