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Corrections-The Mentally Ill

Corrections-The Mentally Ill

Historical Review of the American Institutional Correctional System

Prisons in America were not a thing in America till the late 18th century. Before this, criminals were held in jails while awaiting trial, and the sentencing did not involve imprisonment. However, in 1790, the idea of imprisonment was born when the Walnut Street Jail in Philadelphia started overcrowding (Johnson, 2005). As a result, the facility had to be expanded and include individual cells. Other ideas, later on, arose, including incarceration, to rehabilitate prisoners by isolating them from other people. This brought forth a separate system, the Pennsylvanian system (Johnson, 2005). In 1829, the facility became the first prison and practiced solitary confinement. Notably, those incarcerated included the mentally ill, debtors, petty criminals, serious criminals, those awaiting trial, children, and women.

In the 19th century, imprisonment of debtors was banned, and the first women’s only prison was built. Secondly, the congregate prison system was introduced in 1833 (Johnson, 2005). Prisoners were treated as enslaved people and were subjected to little or no medical care. The parole system was not established till the 20th century in 1907. However, it was implemented countrywide in 1942. The classification of prisoners at different security levels in different prisons was introduced in 1940. In the 1970s, the number of American prisoners skyrocketed due to the war on drugs, which caused the imprisonment of people for non-violent drug law misdemeanors (Duke, 2009). In addition, in the 1970s, prisoners were also granted their constitutional rights to medical access and lawyer services.

The 1980s saw the privatization of prisons and the establishment of the supermax prisons era. Notably, the highest population in American prisons comprises minorities, especially African Americans (Johnson, 2005). In the 21st century, the number of prisoners continued to increase, but this number has decreased over the last few years as laws on misdemeanor offenses like non-violent drug crimes have changed. Nevertheless, the Corona pandemic highlighted the unsanitary conditions in prisons, as these institutions were among the places with the most infected people.

Philosophies and Justifications for Punishment

There are five main philosophies or justifications for punishment: retribution, rehabilitation, restoration, incapacitation, and deterrence (Malsch & Duker, 2016). Retribution is a philosophy that demands that the punishment given to the criminal should match their offenses. As such, misdemeanors should be given minor punishments, while serious crimes like murder demand life imprisonment or the death sentence. Rehabilitation philosophy is based on the concept that a criminal’s crime results from faulty thinking, which only needs reprogramming. Through reprogramming, criminals will realize that they did wrong and will not repeat their actions (Malsch & Duker, 2016). The restoration philosophy focuses on the efforts to help criminals reintegrate back into society by offering them opportunities like job training. The incapacitation justification is meant to prevent criminals from victimizing or hurting other law-abiding members of society. This can be achieved through imprisonment. Finally, the deterrence philosophy is based on the concept of using the threat of punishment to prevent crime (Malsch & Duker, 2016).

Summary of the Identified Issue: The Mentally Ill

During the nineteenth century, Dorothea Dix, an American nurse, started a vigorous campaign for the mentally ill, and she succeeded as many mental asylums were established in America. These asylums were used even for mentally ill criminal offenders. One would assume that the world would follow in her footsteps and continue making life easier for mentally ill individuals. However, as of the data on the last decade, the incarceration of mentally ill individuals has rapidly increased. According to Steinberg et al. (2015) and Bark (2014), the number of mentally ill patients in prisons has doubled compared to half a decade ago. In addition, approximately 45% of inmates in California were diagnosed with mental illnesses (Steinberg et al., 2015); the number makes up over 37% of the national prison populace (Initiative, 2020). Further, over 66% of prisoners in federal prisons reported not receiving mental health care while in prison, and over 27% of police shootings in 2015 involved mentally ill persons (Initiative, 2020). One factor associated with this drastic change is trans-institutionalization. This term describes the recommended link between deinstitutionalization and the surge of severe mental illness in prisons (Dvoskin et al., 2020).

The Issue of Mental Illness

Mentally ill people should not be treated the same as mentally sane individuals in any situation, like in the criminal justice system. For example, mentally ill people in impoverished communities are at a higher risk of being victims of violent crimes. Subsequently, there is an association between victimization and violent offenses (Dvoskin et al., 2020). The association between mental illnesses and crime is complicated and not addressed enough, even in professional settings. As such, mentally ill people often find themselves on the losing side of various systems. Furthermore, prison conditions, especially solitary confinement, have also been known to cause mental health disorders.

Correctional Policies

Some of the current policies to prevent the increase of mentally ill individuals in American prisons include reducing the solitary confinements and allowing the prisoners more time to be outside. Secondly, for a long time, the relationship between correctional officers, wardens, and other prison workers with prisoners has always been rough. However, prisons are now changing policies so that these prison workers can be trained more like social workers to help prisoners and avoid traumatizing them.

Suggested Alternatives

Prisons should be mandated to provide mental health services to their prisoners. Currently, many prisoners are mentally ill, so finding ways to give them the proper mental care they need is one way of moving forward. This can be done through private contractors or community mental health communities. Consequently, the risk of recidivism among these individuals will be reduced, as they will quickly reintegrate into society.


Bark, N. (2014). Prisoner mental health in the USA. International Psychiatry11(3), 53-55.

Duke, S. B. (2009). Mass imprisonment, crime rates, and the drug war: A penological and humanitarian disgrace. Conn. Pub. Int. LJ9, 17.

Dvoskin, J. A., Knoll, J. L., & Silva, M. (2020). A brief history of the criminalization of mental illness. CNS spectrums25(5), 638-650.

Initiative, P. (2022). Mental Health. Retrieved 3 May 2022, from

Johnson, R., Dobrzanska, A., & Palla, S. (2005). The American Prison in Historical Perspective: Race, Gender, and Adjustment. Prisons: Today and Tomorrow, 22-42.

Malsch, M., & Duker, M. (Eds.). (2016). Incapacitation: Trends and new perspectives. Routledge.

Steinberg, D., Mills, D., & Romano, M. (2015). When did prisons become acceptable mental healthcare facilities? Stanford Law School.


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For this assignment, you are to research various books, journal articles, websites, and other scholarly research materials to determine what issues are currently plaguing today’s prisons. After conducting this initial research, you must choose an issue to research in further detail and complete a 2-3 page research paper that addresses the following:

Corrections-The Mentally Ill

Corrections-The Mentally Ill

A Historical Review of the American Institutional Correctional System
A discussion of the philosophies and justifications of punishment
A complete summary of the issue you have identified, including the history of this problem
Why it is an issue for the correctional system
Statistics of how much of a problem this is for corrections
What correctional policies are currently in place to address the issue
What alternatives do you suggest to resolve this issue
Defend why you feel your alternatives would help

A 3-page typed double-spaced research paper including a discussion of all sections listed above.
At least 3 different scholarly sources (your textbook can be one of your sources)
Proper in-text citations, along with a proper reference page. Your references should be in APA format. Please visit the Rose Library website for information on properly using APA format citations and plagiarism policies.

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