In recent weeks, the Associated Press reported that nine of the 11 suicides in New York City jails over the past five years came after operators failed to follow safeguards designed to prevent self-harm by inmates. And an AP's investigation into the deaths of two mentally ill inmates at the city's Rikers Island complex — one who essentially baked to death in a 101-degree cell in February and the other who sexually mutilated himself last fall — have prompted promises of reform.
But the New York City is not alone in its struggles with an influx of mentally ill inmates at its jails. The nation's 3,300 jails have become treatment centers of last resort for people with serious mental illnesses, most arrested for non-violent crimes. To make matters worse, they are awash in a tide of booking and releases that make them particularly unsuited for the task.
"Frankly, local jails have become the new social safety net for individuals with mental illnesses," says one advocate. "The only net that catches them is the criminal justice system."
In a story that has moved in advance for release at 12:01 a.m. EDT Monday, July 14, National Writer Adam Geller looked at the struggles of jails to function when as much 30 percent of their population suffers from serious mental illness. Besides his 3,200-word story, the package will include photos, video, a graphic and a 1,000-word abridged version.
If you have any questions, please call Newsfeatures Editor Jerry Schwartz at 212-621-1625.