There’s a grim joke among correctional officers across Pennsylvania: Prisons are no longer lock-ups for America’s worst offenders; they’re asylums for the mentally ill.
Over the past 50 years, other wealthy nations closed many of their psychiatric hospitals but, as far as Humphreys is aware, they haven’t experienced the same degree of homeless and incarceration among their mentally ill populations as the United States.
One of the reasons, Humphreys said, is that the criminal justice system in the United States is typically more punitive than other wealthy countries. Humphrey said that mandatory minimum sentences and severe restrictions on parole and probation have led the United States to have the highest per capita prison population in the world, increasing the possibility that seriously mentally ill people are imprisoned.
In addition, Humphreys said, the United States’ unusually open access to firearms means that seriously mentally ill people are more likely to commit violent crimes that will lead to a prison sentence. By comparison, Europe has far more stringent gun regulations and significantly lower rates of violent crime.