Prison and the Mentally Ill in the U.S.

By Christopher Zoukis It’s hard to track how many people in America suffer from mental illness. The term covers a broad range from manageable depression to very serious personality disorders. Even worse, since the stigma around mental illness is just now easing, the number of reported cases falls below the number of those that require

Read More »

DOJ Report Slams Housing of Mentally Ill Inmates

In a sharply critical report, the Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General Michael Horowitz takes issue with how the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) houses mentally ill inmates in the federal prison system. The report, “Review of the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Use of Restrictive Housing for Inmates with Mental Illness,” issued July 12, concludes

Read More »

DOJ Surveys Mental Health Among Prison and Jail Inmates

About one-in-seven state and federal prisoners and one-in-four jail inmates report having serious psychological distress, according to a study released by the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics on June 22. The report was based on a survey DOJ conducted on the incidence of mental health problems among inmates in local jails and state

Read More »

Brain Injuries and Criminal Behavior

By Christopher Zoukis Thanks in large part to recent well-publicized incidents involving the National Football League, the impact of brain injuries has become a topic of interest to the general public. When highly-paid professional athletes who participate in contact sports engage in bizarre, criminal, or suicidal behavior, people want to know why. Traditionally, the American

Read More »

New Federal Study Shows Half of Incarcerated Veterans Have Mental Disorder

By Christopher Zoukis A report compiled by a well-respected prisoner group indicates that while the Massachusetts Department of Corrections is diligent in collecting profits from prisoners’ commissary purchases, it has failed to spend those funds on prisoner benefit purchases, as required by state regulation — to the tune of a $2 million surplus for the

Read More »

Education of another mind

A fascinating new education project is underway in the United Kingdom’s infamous high-security Wakefield Prison. Known for housing those considered to be amongst England’s most violent offenders, the facility has recently started offering meditation classes to its inmates. “Mindfulness meditation” comes from the Buddhist tradition and is being touted as a method for treating low-level

Read More »

Mental Illness and Prisoners

By Stephanie Mencimer /

Passed in 1994, California’s “three strikes” law is the nation’s harshest sentencing law. Designed to imprison for life anyone who commits three violent crimes, the law has inadvertently resulted in the incarceration of a lot relatively harmless people, for a long time and at great public expense. Crimes that have earned people life sentences: Stealing a dollar in loose change from a car, breaking into a soup kitchen to steal food, stealing a jack from the open window of a tow truck, and even stealing two pairs of children’s shoes from Ross Dress for Less. The law is one reason that California’s prison system is dangerously, and unconstitutionally, overcrowded. More than 4,000 people in the prison system are serving life sentences for non-violent crimes.

In 2012, with corrections costs consuming ever more of the state budget, the voters in the state had had enough, and they approved a reform measure that would spring many of these low-level offenders from a lifetime of costly confinement. By August of last year, more than 1,000 inmates had their life sentences changed and were released; recidivisim rates for this group has also been extremely low. But further progress in the reform effort is being stymied by one thorny problem: Nearly half of the inmates serving time in California prisons suffer from a serious mental illness such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. So far, judges have been reluctant to let these folks out of their life sentences.

Read More »

Kentucky Supreme Court: Probation Cannot be Extended for Sex Offender Treatment

By Prison Legal News

The Supreme Court of Kentucky has held that a probationer’s period of probation cannot be extended to require completion of a sex offender treatment program.

Elmer David Miller was originally charged with felony first-degree unlawful transaction with a minor. He entered into a plea agreement for a misdemeanor charge of criminal attempt to commit first-degree unlawful transaction with a minor, because the victim was over the age of sixteen. The plea agreement included two years of probation and required Miller to “[a]ttend any counseling recommended by probation and parole.”

Following the recommendation of the Division of Probation and Parole, Miller enrolled in the state’s sex offender treatment program. Shortly before his period of probation ended, his probation officer informed the trial court that Miller would be unable to complete the program before the expiration of his probation term. The court then held a hearing and extended Miller’s probation until he finished the three-year sex offender treatment program.

Miller challenged the trial court’s order and the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that he had not agreed to the extension of his probation and, in fact, had opposed it at the hearing. The appellate court remanded the case for a determination of whether Miller’s term of probation should have been allowed to expire or should have been revoked for his failure to complete the treatment program. See: Miller v. Commonwealth of Kentucky, 2010 Ky. App. Unpub. LEXIS 1001 (Ky. Ct. App. 2010).

On discretionary review by the Kentucky Supreme Court, the state agreed that the Court of Appeals was correct in concluding Miller’s term of probation could not be extended. The Court concurred, stating the statutory two-year period for misdemeanors is an “absolute limit, absent some overriding statute or waiver by the defendant,” neither of which applied in this case.

Read More »