Disparities associated with race and ethnicity within the criminal justice system is a growing issue within the U. S. society. Non-whites make up approximately 25% of the U. S. population but represent 62%, and 57% of the prison and jail population. This is an increase of 33% over the past 23 years (Primm, Osher, & Gomez, 2005). The overrepresentation of people of color in the criminal justice system is astounding. A recent survey of jails and prisons also revealed that more than 16% of inmates had a major mental illness, which is more than five times greater than that of state psychiatric hospital patients (Primm, Osher, & Gomez, 2005).
The lack of adequate mental health services within the criminal justice system and within local communities is also a contributing factor to the increasingly large numbers of inmates within the criminal justice system. Disparities specific to race and ethnicity are factors that contribute to the current overrepresentation of minorities in the judicial system. Racial profiling, traffic stops that lead to searches, and historical biases within the criminal justice system can lead to minor offenses resulting in harsher sentences, rather than probation that may be given to white people, as opposed to people of color.
Statistically people of color are given longer sentences for committing the same or similar crimes and their white counterparts. African American males may be perceived as recidivist rather than rehabilitated because they were given a jail sentence rather than perceived as rehabilitated through community service sentences (Ngozi, Coulson- Clark, & Nkechi, 2010). Approximately 80% of racial overrepresentation within the criminal justice system may be explained by the data from the 1980’s, during the federal war on drugs, many offenders of color were sent to prison.
Incidental discrimination resulting from stereotyping among officers has also led to increased incidents of traffic stops and searches among people of color along with the negative media perception of people of color (Ngozi, Coulson-Clark, & Nkechi, 2010). Mental health services provided within the criminal justice system across the country are inadequate and fail to provide the services needed to properly treat increasing number of mentally ill inmates that continue to be sentenced to jails and prisons.
The lack of mental health professionals willing to serve this population and the state legislators and administrators unwillingness to provide the resources and commitment to address the issue, along with the “out of sight, out of mind”, attitude, the issue of increased mentally ill people in the criminal justice system will continue to grow (States’, 2007). There are between 10-16% of people incarcerated that have some type of mental illness (Metraux, 2008).
In 2000 1394 out of 1558 correctional facilities reported they provide mental health services (Beck, 2001). Their policy provides screening, assessments, 24-hour care, therapy, medications, community health care services upon release (Beck, 2001). Although mental health services within most correctional facilities are available, there are still many that have limited mental health services due to the type and security level of the facility.
Most community-based facilities are less likely to have policies that incorporate mental health screening and care and are therefore left up to the individual to obtain on their own (Beck, 2001). Only about 20% of the facilities were found to provide 24-hour care. Statistics showed that 84 % of facilities provided therapy and 83% provided psychotropic medications to their inmates (Beck, 2001). In the year 2000, a study showed that 1 in 10 inmates were currently receiving medication therapy and 1 in 8 were receiving therapy or counseling (Beck, 2001).