Decarceration of U.S. jails and prisons: where will persons with serious mental illness go?

J Am Acad Psychiatry Law. 2014;42(4):489-94.


Decarceration (decreasing the number of persons incarcerated in U.S. jails and prisons) has begun. It is estimated that more than 350,000 persons with serious mental illness (SMI) are among those incarcerated in the United States and that many thousands of them will probably be among those released. Currently, the prison population in general is being reduced as a consequence of concerns about overcrowding and of policies and programs such as reclassification of drug possession, which would affect many persons with mental illness. Court-ordered diversion and changes in sentencing guidelines are also serving to reduce prison populations. In recent years, the mental health system did not have to manage as large a number of persons with SMI, especially those who were among the most difficult and expensive to treat, because many of them were incarcerated in jails and prisons. Now, with decarceration and the release of many such persons, the mental health system may be expected to assume more responsibility for them and should be prepared and funded to meet their needs. This population of persons with SMI needs structure and treatment that, depending upon their individual needs, may include 24-hour supportive housing, ACT and FACT teams, assisted outpatient treatment, psychiatric medication, and psychiatric hospitalization.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Commitment of Mentally Ill / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Commitment of Mentally Ill / statistics & numerical data
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Crowding / psychology
  • Deinstitutionalization / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Health Policy / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Hospitals, Psychiatric / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Hospitals, Psychiatric / statistics & numerical data
  • Hospitals, State / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Hospitals, State / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Mentally Ill Persons / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Mentally Ill Persons / psychology*
  • Mentally Ill Persons / statistics & numerical data
  • Prisoners / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Prisoners / psychology*
  • Prisoners / statistics & numerical data
  • Prisons / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • United States
  • Workforce