Rosemary Gido, a criminology professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is the co-author of Women's Mental Health Issues Across the Criminal Justice System. She also recently contributed to Women and Justice: It's a Crime, co-authoring a chapter on mentally ill women in jail. Gido blames the closing of state mental institutions, or deinstitutionalization, and the "War on Drugs" for filling our country's jails and prisons with mentally ill people.
Since deinstitutionalization began 50 years ago, what has happened to portions of the country's mentally ill population?
The whole criminal-justice system has become the new asylum for the mentally ill. Deinstitutionalization was well meaning ... but unfortunately we were not totally ready for these people to be integrated into community models of care. ... Jails and prisons were the dumping ground for these people.
You've written specifically about incarcerating mentally ill women ...
There is a higher percentage of mentally ill women in jails than men. Many of the women brought into jails [in the "War on Drugs"] are minority women. The women who started turning up in jails and prisons on drug charges had co-occurring disorders, meaning you are addicted to some drug and you have a severe mental illness.
You say that reinstitutionalizing the mentally ill would be a mistake. So is the solution to make jails more accommodating to mentally ill prisoners?
Yeah, but you have to come down to the reality of the situation. Not every jail can do that. Not every county is well resourced. In the better-run jails, people are being taken care of. But it's going to vary greatly from county to county. It's a great challenge.