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Commentary: Deal with inmates’ mental health problems

The state penal system leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and you should have the same reaction as well.

California’s mental health system and protocols leave a bad taste in my mouth too.

Combine the two and stir. You have what can collectively be referred to as the new asylums. Places where you get food, structure and high recidivism rates.

According to a 2013 article published in the Los Angeles Times, an astonishingly high number, 40%, of California inmates suffer from a mental illness, oftentimes going without needed support and mental health services.


According to current reports supported by the Legislative Analyst’s Office, it costs roughly $47,000 per year to house an inmate in California. Within that number, a whopping 50% of the costs are security-related.

As a current social work student at USC, I see a problem here. it would seem as if something needs to be done about this startling and unsettling data.

House Resolution 401, which is a reauthorization of the Mentally Ill Offender and Treatment Act of 2004, has outlined specific changes aimed at the treatment of inmates with mental illnesses. These include the education of corrections guards on how to treat those sufferers and alternatives to solitary confinement, which could actually aggravate existing symptoms.

Do we want to continue to be a part of the problem or become a part of the solution?


As a student pursuing this line of work, I would like to see my community and government get behind legislation that aims to be proactive and implement a solution whose effects can be seen now and in the future, regardless of the temporary up-front costs. Those costs pale in comparison to the actual dollar amount that would be saved by reducing recidivism rates and crimes recommitted in the community.

SHANEESTA SANFILIPPO is studying social work at USC. She lives in Irvine.