There is a big difference between someone who commits a crime willingly and someone who commits a crime because of a valid and documented mental illness. The criminal justice system doesn’t seem very well equipped to handle people who have committed crimes because of a mental illness. In fact, mentally ill inmates seem to languish in jail.

Wisconsin has two mental health facilities that are run by the state. Starting in late 2014 through early 2015, those two facilities saw a record number of referrals from the criminal justice system. In 2009, the two facilities had a total of 162 referrals from the criminal justice system. In 2015, that number was up dramatically to 447.

The influx of referrals is what is causing a problem in Wisconsin. When a referral is made to one of the two state-run hospitals, the person who is facing the criminal justice system has to wait for a bed to open up at the hospital. That often means that the person will languish in jail until one of the hospitals can accommodate them. That can often mean having to spend weeks in jail.

When you think about the increasing prevalence of mental health issues, it is easy to understand how this would be a very serious problem. It is estimated that almost 10 million adults in the country suffer from a serious mental illness. Around two out of every 10 inmates in the country have a recent mental illness.

In some cases, there is little that can be done about the mentally ill person in jail. It is a good idea to look into possible options for handling the case, as well as trying to determine if there is a way to get the person help instead of time in jail.

Source: Stevens Point Journal, “Mentally ill inmates left waiting in jail,” Chris Mueller, May 27, 2016