Gaping holes in the social safety net and health care systems leave many without access to health care and housing in the United States. Yet all too often, people who need these resources end up in jail and prison instead.
Criminalizing people who have health and housing needs is counterproductive, harmful and wasteful. People who face these challenges are disproportionately incarcerated and might be better served by systems designed to help rather than punish.
People with mental problems
Inadequate investment in infrastructure for mental health services has left many people without adequate care. In the United States, people have to wait an average of 48 days to access mental health or substance abuse services, and many others struggle to afford necessary services that are unavailable without insurance.
As waiting lists for community psychiatric and mental health services lengthen, jails and prisons are filling up with people with treatable mental health conditions. Non-violent behaviors associated with mental illness that can be avoided with appropriate support—such as loitering, disorderly behavior and trespassing— are criminalized, resulting in the incarceration of people who need treatment rather than punishment.
This has turned prisons and jails across the country into de facto providers of mental health care. By September 12, there were more than 5300 people with mental needs in Los Angeles County Jail System— doing so largest provider of mental health services In the United States of America.
However, prison environments are simply not conducive to providing high-quality mental health care. almost two thirds
a person with mental illness in jails and prisons receives no mental health treatment. Instead, they are often subjected to harsh treatment that can worsen their symptoms.
People with mental illness also often face challenges navigating life behind bars and are more likely to receive an additional sentence. Solitary confinement, for example, is routinely used for people who have serious mental health symptoms, even though extreme isolation it is known to exacerbate mental illness and can cause long-term harm, leaving incarcerated individuals unprepared to successfully reintegrate into communities upon release. Really, suicide is the leading cause deaths in local prisons; a person in prison is more than three times more likely to die by suicide than a person in the general US population.
Mental health treatment in community settings is not only a far better alternative to the treatment of people with mental illness than prison, but also a more responsible use of public resources. In Los Angeles it costs approx $180 per day provide community housing and clinical care for people with serious mental health needs—versus $445–$650 per day to house them in city jails.
People with drug addiction disorders
The use of imprisonment to combat the negative effects of substance use has been failed strategy. Yet the United States continues to overinvest in prisons and jails that incarcerate people who would be better served in the community. Forty percent of people in state prison sets criteria for addiction disorder in the 12 months prior to their admission to prison. Institute for Judicial Statistics National Prisoner Survey suggests that from 2007 to 2009 more than 20 percent of people
convicted of criminal offenses related to the procurement of drugs or the acquisition of money for drugs.
Little is being done to help people with substance abuse disorders after they are incarcerated. Despite evidence showing prison addiction treatment can help people break the cycle of closure and prevent overdose after release, many people with substance abuse disorders they do not receive treatment while behind bars.
Meanwhile, there is also too little investment in communities addiction treatment programs that can help prevent drug-related behaviors that can lead to incarceration. A 2022 study of community-certified behavioral health clinics in Missouri that treat mental health and addiction disorders found that clients involved in care and previously involved with law enforcement, 70 percent after six months of treatment he was no longer involved in law enforcement. It is clear that we have to expand evidence-based approaches to problems caused by substance use rather than relying on unsuccessful strategies that simply punish.
People experiencing homelessness
People experiencing homelessness they are often criminalized for essential behaviors related to the lack of housing. As tenants and homebuyers across the country continue to suffer the acute condition the affordable housing crisissome cities have passed laws prohibition of people staying in vehicles and sits and sleeps in public spaces. Cities with limited public toilets make public urination a crime. Texas has criminalized public camp. Bans on “loitering” and “loitering” give law enforcement the freedom to target homeless people. Dozens of cities in the United States they even made feeding people who experienced illegal homeless.
As a result of laws that attach criminal penalties to survival activities, people are homeless 11 times they are more likely to be arrested than those who have an apartment. However, incarceration is not the solution to the problem of homelessness. It is clear that greater investment in affordable housing would help people who do not have permanent, quality housing. More public and affordable housing providers should rent to people with convictions. Rental bans they contribute to the cycle of incarceration for ex-prisoners by making it difficult for them to adjust to public life, as the inability to provide a stable address creates barriers to employment and self-sufficiency.
More resources are also needed for evaluation 16 percent of people with the experience of homeless people who have serious mental illnesses. New York City spends terribly 556,539 dollars annually imprison people in hellish conditions on Rikers Island. In contrast, it costs approx 42,000 dollars place someone in a supportive housing program that provides individualized services for people with behavioral health needs that may lead to incarceration.
Past decades of mass incarceration have shown that punishment does not improve public health, yet the United States continues to spend more than 80 billion dollars a year
we correct. Excessive criminalization of people with health and housing needs does not make us safer. Instead, we need greater investment in solutions proven to improve outcomes for people suffering from mental illness, substance abuse disorders and homelessness. Greater investment in services that help, not punish, will help build a healthier and safer society.