As Gov. Gray Davis considers another increase in the state's $5.2-billion prison budget, I urge him to visit the Los Angeles County Jail (Jan. 22). He should see the 2,500 inmates on psychiatric medications and an additional 100 in psychotic states, who listen to internal voices telling them to refuse medications, struggling with their illnesses. The jail's psychiatric hospital houses 50 more inmates.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles County, with a population of 10 million, has less than 250 psychiatric beds available to treat the uninsured, unincarcerated severely mentally ill. Continuing cutbacks have downsized the number of beds tenfold. The untreated severely mentally ill respond to unseen voices and commit bizarre acts or petty crimes that result in arrest and incarceration. Jails and prisons are experiencing a tragic backlash from the misguided downsizing of the mental health system. It is time to halt this human injustice and shortsighted budgetary approach.
Marcia Kraft Goin MD
Prof. of Clinical Psychiatry
USC School of Medicine
Maybe the budget crisis will finally resolve something that common sense and humanity have not been able to: We will realize that not only should we not jail nonviolent drug offenders but we cannot afford to jail them. Treatment, which is much cheaper, much more humane and much more effective, may finally get a real chance to prove its worth.