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New National Poll Cites Wide Support for Mental Health Programs in Jails and Prisons

  • October 17, 2022

APA Calls for Funding to Community-Based Services to Decriminalize Mental Illness

Washington, D.C., Oct. 17, 2022 — Only one in five (20%) Americans believe that those in jails and prisons are getting the mental health care they need, according to a new American Psychiatric Association (APA) poll. Seventy-five percent, however, say mental health support should be provided for incarcerated people in the United States.

Americans are aware of the number of people with mental illness incarcerated per year (their answers were slightly high, on average 49.8%, while estimates are around 44%). The APA believes that community-based services and supports for individuals with serious mental illness should be sufficiently funded to provide alternatives to the criminal justice system (see a 2020 position statement).

The poll answers are from the latest Healthy Minds Monthly poll commissioned by APA and conducted by Morning Consult of 2,111 adults between Sep. 30 and Oct. 2, 2022.

"It's important that Americans are recognizing the longstanding reality that our jails and prisons have become the largest mental health provider in the country, and that people in the criminal justice system need treatment and support," said APA President Rebecca W. Brendel, M.D., J.D. "Public awareness and attention can help motivate resources and change."

Half (48%) of Americans say they do not believe police and law enforcement officers in their community are properly trained to deal with people in mental health crisis, with more Black adults (60%), Hispanic adults (56%) and those ages 18-25 (54%) concurring. Fifty-three percent of all polled thought that the new 988 mental health crisis number will be effective to keep people in crisis out of jail, with Black (64%) and Hispanic (54%) adults more optimistic. Among Gen Z, those born between 1997 and 2012, 61% expressed that 988 would be a helpful tool for keeping those in crisis out of the criminal justice system.

When asked what additional services should be available to people who are incarcerated, after mental health support, those most often selected among adults were job training (67%), soft skills training  (64%), educational opportunities (60%), reintegration and reentry assistance (56%), telehealth (40%), wellness programs (39%), and financial management classes (35%). Support for these various services varied across demographics with younger adults (ages 18-25) more likely to support wellness programs (49%), and older adults (65+) more supportive of job training (72%).

“The number of people in jail and prisons with mental health and substance use disorders is a major societal problem and Americans are saying we should fix it,” said APA CEO and Medical Director Saul Levin M.D., M.P.A. “Lawmakers should heed this information and take action.”

When asked about their levels of anxiety on current events, the results were consistent with prior Healthy Minds polls, with adults most anxious about inflation (84%) and a recession (75%).

American Psychiatric Association

The American Psychiatric Association, founded in 1844, is the oldest medical association in the country. The APA is also the largest psychiatric association in the world with more than 37,000 physician members specializing in the diagnosis, treatment, prevention, and research of mental illnesses. APA’s vision is to ensure access to quality psychiatric diagnosis and treatment. For more information, please visit www.psychiatry.org.

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