Since the 1962 publication of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a mirror image of the best-selling novel’s plot has played out in U.S. prisons. Author Ken Kasey wrote a work of fiction about a prisoner who was sent to a mental hospital. In fact, mentally ill Americans are often denied the treatment they need and instead end up in prisons and jails. It happens so often that correctional facilities have become the de facto source for mental health services.
From the 1960s to the present the U.S. incarceration rate more than tripled, and around 2.2 million people are currently incarcerated nationwide. During that same period of time, the population of institutionalized mental patients shrank by 90 percent to under 60,000. Alisa Roth, author of Insane: America’s Criminal Treatment of Mental Illness, estimates that half of U.S. prisoners suffer from a mental illness, since the lack of other treatment options means they are more likely to end up behind bars.
“It’s unpleasant, it’s loud, it’s claustrophobic,” she said of units that house mentally ill prisoners.
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