In recent years, mental health questions have become more central to the criminal justice reform debate.
New York’s jails are estimated to host around 900 seriously mentally ill inmates. That number will have to be reduced for the plan to close Rikers Island to proceed. Each new in-custody suicide brings a federal takeover of the city’s Department of Correction one step closer to reality. (There were six last year and there have been two so far this year.)
George Soros suggested last week that the large number of incarcerated mentally ill Americans holds potential for broad-based reduction in jail and prison populations.
In principle, Soros is onto something. The criminal justice system should not be in the business of addressing untreated serious mental illness.
However, separating the merely sick from true criminals on a mass scale, and providing effective treatment to the former, is easier said than done. It would require a public mental health-care system far more competent than one we have.
Stephen Eide is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and contributing editor of City Journal.
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