The Evansville Courier Press has an article on inmates in the Vanderburgh County Jail who are mentally ill but cannot get a bed in a mental hospital because of cuts in funding. They reference a series in the South Bend Tribune which I missed.
In any case, this seems like a fairly simple proposition. Either we pay up front for treatment for the mentally ill or we pay for incarceration later when, due to their mental illness, they inevitably run afoul of
the law. Our jails become the mental health providers of last resort. It’s a poorly thought out system that is inhumane and, even worse from a purely fiscal perspective, inefficient.
I suspect it’s a matter of power and who pays the bills. Counties pick up the tab for the local jails. I believe the state and federal government tend to pay for mental hospitals. So, when the state and federal government hit a budget crunch, they close the hospitals and pass the problem down to the counties. The counties don’t have the choice of closing the jails, and taxpayers end up paying more or receiving fewer or lousier county services.
[…] Local government expenditures have not increased particularly since 2005. The immediate cause of property tax increases will be almost entirely attributable to the property tax subsidy reduction passed by the legislature. But on a more general level, local expenditures increase because, as the saying goes, “shit runs downhill.” (Sorry Mom.) An example I mentioned yesterday was that of cutting funding for mental hospitals. The state cuts mental health funding so the county jails gets more inmates who are committing crimes because of their mental illnesses. Counties have to pick up the tab. Very often where you see a necessary expenditure cut by the state, you will see the expense pop up in a form the local government has to pay more for as the provider of last resort. So, it’s simply wrong for legislators to try to duck the consequences of their budgetary choices by implying that local government is somehow guilty of extravagant spending. […]