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Resolutions & Amendments

38th International Convention - San Francisco, CA (2008)

Public Safety and the Mentally Ill

Resolution No. 94
38th International Convention
Moscone West
July 28 - August 1, 2008
San Francisco, CA

Mental illness is not a crime. However, since the deinstitutionalization, or transintitutionalization, as some now call it, of the mentally ill began over 20 years ago, jails and prisons have taken over as the repository for much of this country’s mentally ill population.  Large city jails have become the largest mental health facilities in America; and

According to a 2006 Department of Justice study, more than half of all prison and jail inmates had a mental health problem, including 706,000 inmates in state prisons, 79,000 in federal prisons and 480,000 in local jails.  This represents 56 percent of state prisoners, 45 percent of federal prisoners and 64 percent of jail inmates.  Some experts consider these estimates low; and

Prison and jail inmates who had a mental health problem were more likely than those without to have been charged with breaking facility rules.  24 percent of state prisoners who had a mental health problem, compared to 14 percent of those without, had been charged with a physical or verbal assault on correctional staff or another inmate.  Inmates in jails were four times as likely as those without to have been charged with a physical or verbal assault; and

The current fiscal crisis has led to financial belt-tightening and budget cut-backs, including in prison budgets.  Prison mental health services have not been spared.  The cost of mental health services in prison is large.  A study in Pennsylvania, for example, estimated that while the average prisoner costs $80 per day to incarcerate, a mentally ill prisoner costs $140 per day; and

The U.S. Congress passed, and President Bush signed, the Mentally Ill Offender and Crime Reduction Act in 2004.  Congress is now considering the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Reauthorization and Improvement Act of 2007.  Among other provisions, this bill would authorize the appropriation of $45 million a year for Department of Justice grant programs to assist states and localities in improving the treatment of mentally ill offenders. 
That AFSCME urges correctional, public safety and health care agencies to provide mental health training for staff.  It is dangerous for untrained staff to work with mentally ill inmates; and

That AFSCME urges agencies to provide sufficient staff and facilities to adequately care for those with mental illness; and

That AFSCME supports legislative efforts on the federal, state and local level to address this serious issue. Mental illness should not be criminalized, it should be treated.  Prisons and jails were never intended to be mental health facilities.
SUBMITTED BY: Danny Homan, President and Delegate
AFSCME Council 61
John Good, President and Delegate
Dwayne Williamson, Delegate
AFSCME Local 525, Council 61
Mike Fraise, Delegate
AFSCME Local 2989, Council 61