States Using Prisons to Replace Mental Hospitals

In a January 2019 article titled Prisons are Housing Mental Health Patients Who’ve Committed No Crimes the American Bar Association’s ABA Journal describes legal cases in which people who are involuntarily committed for mental health treatment are taken to psychiatric facilities in prisons, rather than hospitals in the community, even though they have not been convicted of crimes. The article details the legal arguments that lawyers are using to fight against this practice and explains the economic and political circumstances that have led to this practice.

Although some people think that involuntary commitment is simply a medical determination, it is not. It is a legal order in which a medical assessment is primary evidence. But this legal order comes from civil court, not criminal court and it is not meant to subject patients to prison rules, prison clothing, or the other aspects of criminal punishment.

Chapter 5 of Family Guide to Mental Illness and the Law: A Practical Handbook is about involuntary commitment. Chapter 12 is about the rights of people with mental illness in jails and prisons.

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