Some movies feature the abandoned psychiatric hospital, in which characters roam the halls amid piles of tattered, dirty gowns, overturned chairs, and all manner of medical tools that doctors used to “treat” patients suffering from mental illness. The “abandoned psych hospital” in pop culture seems to imply that it’s a thing of the past. Yes, psych hospitals may have once existed, and patients suffering from mental illness may have been mistreated in the past, but that was then, and this is now.
The reality is that the old gloomy psych hospital never really went away. It’s right under our noses, in plain sight, in the form of prisons dotting the nation’s landscape. As Meredith Clark reports for MSNBC, prisons are today’s asylums.
Here are the numbers that seem to confirm this: Around 35,000 people suffering from mental illness reside in state hospitals. If that number sounds like a lot, try roughly 350,000 on for size. This is the number of people suffering from mental illness in state prisons and county jails, according to a report released by the Treatment Advocacy Center.
Clark quotes some lines from the report: “Inmates who linger untreated in jails and prisons become increasingly more vulnerable to their symptoms and the resulting victimization or violence” and “The lack of treatment for seriously ill inmates is inhumane and should not be allowed in a civilized society.”
One of the worst examples of maltreatment is solitary confinement. Clark describes one prison inmate who served 13 of his 15 years in solitary confinement, which is “a special form of imprisonment in which a prisoner is isolated from any human contact,” according to Wikipedia. The man was schizophrenic. Solitary confinement likely only made it worse, perhaps much worse.