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From State Hospitals to Jails and Prisons?

The number of Michigan prison inmates who were former patients in state psychiatric hospitals has increased by 23 percent in the last four years, according to a December 7, 1997, story in The Detroit News ("Mentally ill flood prisons: Critics say state is dumping patients out of psychiatric hospitals"). This percentage is more than double the 11-percent rate of increase in the overall prison population in the state. The increase occurred during the same time the number of in-patients in state psychiatric hospitals decreased by about 1,000 and six state hospitals were closed down altogether.

Many experts in Michigan believe that the increase is no accident. Dr. George Curtis, recently retired professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan, states in The Detroit News article that "there is a distinct trend to convert prisons and jails to sub rosa mental institutions." And, Rep. Elizabeth Brater, D-Ann Arbor, notes that the number of inmates in Michigan jails who are prescribed psychoactive medications has signficantly increased. "We’re taking a giant step backward in our mental health policy in Michigan" said Brater. "We had established a system where people were cared for. Now they’re being criminalized. It’s very unfortunate."

But William Allen, a high-ranking state mental health official, denies that there’s a correlation between the closure of hospitals and the increase in the number of people with mental illnesses in jails and prisons. According to Mr. Allen, most individuals released from institutions end up in group homes or back in in-patient care. Those individuals who do end up in prisons receive "state of the art care."

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