Mental Care Needed for All, Including Inmates | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Mental Care Needed for All, Including Inmates

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Photo courtesy K. Zeakky III

Of the more than 19,000 men and women behind bars in Mississippi, about 3,000 inmates are receiving mental-health care.

The state has received a federal grant to expand a mental-health and substance-abuse program to serve around 90 people. The launch of this Second Chance Act Reentry Program is so necessary and timely. Past incarceration strategies or even re-entry programs were mainly focused on punitive punishment and having inmates "learn a lesson."

Then researchers started to look at how often the punished were re-offended—their "recidivism." As a result, even the tough-on-crime state Legislature forced the Mississippi Department of Corrections to stop a paramilitary incarceration "alternative" program because it had a higher recidivism rate than the state as a whole.

Research has finally caught up with what so many people experience on a daily basis: trauma. Trauma can occur in a single incident, like a car accident, or in repeated traumatic events, like abuse. Trauma affects our lives in a physiological way. When we are exposed to repetitious trauma, including through growing up in dangerous, poor neighborhoods, our brains shut down certain regions to avoid feeling pain. Just because we avoid pain once, however, doesn't mean the trauma left.

"Trauma can tattoo the imagination and disrupt normal powers of narrative," David Morris writes in "The Evil Hours," his book about post-traumatic stress disorder. "It can create episodes that seem supernatural in origin."

Trauma accounts for 41 million emergency room visits and 2.3 million hospital admissions in the U.S. each year, CDC data show. Our state's psychologists and counselors recognize the urgency—the Department of Mental Health hosted the third annual trauma-informed care conference in September. We applaud state agencies' work to bring trauma-informed care into mental-health practices and even our prisons throughout the state.

The State is headed in the right direction, but slowly. Every inmate who cannot receive adequate mental care in a prison or jail should access needed counseling or therapy once discharged. We need more funding and support and not just for more MDOC mental health-care programs, but for the state's entire system of care. Prison must not be a revolving door for the mentally ill.

To rehabilitate Mississippians and keep them from committing worse crime and returning to prison later in life, mental-health support must be in their communities once they are discharged. The state needs more than new programs. We need a shift in mindset to a trauma-informed system of care to rehabilitate and address the issues likely at the heart of crime in the first place. This is what real violence prevention looks like.

Read the JFP's ongoing "Preventing Violence" series at jfp.ms/preventingviolence.

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