Any person at the mercy of others is quite defenseless, and people in prison are as vulnerable as any person can be. Prisons are closed to public scrutiny, and prisoners have to spend their sentence usually enduring the abuse, and harsh treatment meted out by their captors.
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Even if they are not abused or subjected to harsh treatment, prison conditions are not conducive to the mental or physical health of prisoners because of prisons being overcrowded, the occurrence of violence, drug usage, and prisons’, poor living and health conditions (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2013).
However, there are prisoners with special needs and problems who are more vulnerable than other normal prisoners. These are individuals with mental or physical deficiencies and disabilities.
Such prisoners are badly treated by the prison staff and other prisoners mainly because of the discriminatory attitudes that are deeply rooted in society and are more evident in the restricted environment of prisons. Those on the death row are in an altogether separate category because of the stress they undergo for their sentences, and they also need special attention (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2013).
Special needs and mentally ill prisoners cost the state and federation more money to incarcerate than those who are not mentally ill. The major cost in this pertains to staffing requirements because mentally ill patients require more attention as they are slow to communicate their needs, which are not easily understood.
This requires extra staff or overtime from the regular staff. The example is given of Broward County, Florida where the cost of regular housing prisoners is around $80 per day, but for the special prisoners this cost escalates to $130 per day because of the need for psychiatric medications and examinations which increases costs significantly (Torrey & Kennard, 2010)
Another factor is that mentally ill inmates spend more time in prison than normal inmates. It has been recorded at Florida’s Orange County Jail inmates without any health issues stay for an average period of 26 days while on the other hand inmates having mental issues have an average stay period of 56 days. This indicates that inmates with mental and psychological issues stay for a much longer period, which adds to costs.
This difference is due to the problems that such inmates face understanding the rule of prisons and following them. Moreover, delays often take place as inmates with psychological problems have to wait due to limited bed space in psychiatric hospitals. Mentally ill patients are also more suicidal, and 50 percent of all prisoners who commit suicide are mentally ill (Allen, 2008).
If these prisoners were not given proper care, they run greater risks of harm from other inmates and themselves, which in turn increases suicide incidences. Another disturbing factor is that if not cared for properly, they find it difficult to adjust under normal circumstances and are more likely to break the law against and be sent back to the prison, thereby, increasing the prison population and adding to costs.
Their time in prison would be unnecessarily increased because of them breaking prison rules, and they are usually detained for longer periods due to limited space in psychiatric hospitals. Besides increasing the cost of their imprisonment, they add to the Medicare costs for the government when they are released from the prison (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2013).
The Office of Community Programs in the State of New Jersey makes efforts to implement programs that help offenders become useful and productive members of the society upon their release to decrease their chances of committing more offenses and returning to the prison. For this, the office agrees with NGO’s which provide a community to the released offenders and also makes it compulsory for these agencies to monitor and oversee various rehabilitation programs.
These include diversified assessment and counseling services and also medication and jobs to make it possible for the released offenders to adjust to the normal community life. Out of 10 such programs, one is implemented before the person is released, and nine programs are especially for the mentally ill and those who indulge in substance abuse. The program also provides internal mental fitness for those prisoners who have special needs.
These are very well organized and effective programs which provide wide-ranging contacts with the released offenders, impose curfew timings for parolees and carry out urine tests for drug use. A member of the NJDOC is also included in the panel which endorsees applicants for participation in the program for judges who sentence or resentence these offenders. The NJDOC has also set an “Office of Drug Programs” for offenders both in and out of prisons.
The task of this office is to address “Addiction Assessment and Treatment Referrals” for assessing the seriousness of drug abuse, initiation of treatment, and corrective measures for these drug addicts. Treatment commences after assessing the level of drug and related causes. The overall objective is to try and turn offenders into law-abiding and productive citizens so that they can contribute effectively to the society and not commit offenses or be sent back to the prison repeatedly (State of New Jersey: Department of Corrections, 2013).
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Allen, S. (2008). Mental Health Treatment and the Criminal Justice System. Journal of Health & Biomedical Law, IV, (1), 153-191.
State of New Jersey: Department of Corrections. (2013). Divison of Programs and Community Service. Retrieved July 10, 2013, from state.nj.us/corrections/pages/about_us: http://www.state.nj.us/corrections/pages/about_us/org_struct/Division_of_PCS.html
Torrey, E. F., & Kennard, S. A. (2010). More Mentally Ill Persons Are in Jails and Prisons:A Survey of the States. Retrieved July 10, 2013, from treatmentadvocacycenter: http://www.treatmentadvocacycenter.org/storage/documents/final_jails_v_hospitals_study.pdf
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (2013). Prisoners with special needs. Retrieved July 9, 2013, from unodc.org/documents/justice-and-prison-reform/: http://www.unodc.org/documents/justice-and-prison-reform/Prisoners-with-special-needs.pdf