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More Inmates Suffer From Mental Illness As National Trend Hits Rikers

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TWC News: More Inmates Suffer From Mental Illness As National Trend Hits Rikers
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Hundreds of Rikers Island inmates with mental illness are locked away in solitary confinement and while some think it’s a problem, it’s not an easy fix. NY1's Criminal Justice reporter Dean Meminger filed the following report.

At any given time, hundreds of inmates with mental illness can be in solitary confinement for breaking rules at Rikers Island. That's a big problem for NYU professor Dr. James Gilligan, who has been studying the issue for the Board of Correction that oversees city jails.

"At least 40 percent of the inmates at Rikers Island currently suffer from one degree or another of mental illness. At least a third of those have the most serious mental illnesses, which mean they’re out of touch with reality, they’re are potentially suicidal or homicidal or both," Gilligan said.

Rikers Island has about 12,000 inmates on a daily bases, almost 5,000 are suffering from mental illness.

Dr. Gilligan said because of the closure of mental institutions, those with mental disabilities continue to get locked up.

"Over the last 40 years, the United States, throughout the country has been moving mentally ill people from mental hospitals into jails and prisons,” Gilligan said.

The Department of Correction said it's a national problem and that Rikers has more mentally ill individuals than any hospital and only one institution has more than Rikers, the Los Angeles jail system.

“The L.A. jail system would be the first. You know, as people with mentally illness increasing come to jail, jails are becoming mental health hospitals,” said Erik Berliner, a deputy commissioner for the DOC.

Terry Hubbard said her son has mental disabilities and that she tried unsuccessfully to get him help before he committed a crime.

"And that has been the plight of most of us, most of the family members. Because we don't get respect, no one sits down and listens to us and adheres to what has happened to that individual before they came into the system,” Hubbard said.

The Department of Correction said it is trying to provide alternatives for mentally ill inmates with a recently opened hospital-style unit.

"So rather than punishing them in the traditional ways in which that happens at a jail, we are giving them instead a very rich clinical model and hope we can treat their mental illnesses," Berliner said.

Hopefully that means when they re-enter society, they can receive more help.

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