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MENTAL HEALTH AND PRISON REFORM

Disability Rights Nebraska has released a report examining the connections between solitary confinement, serious mental illness, and the need for in-house treatment plus more effective coordination of community supports once an inmate is released. 

The report, by Disability Rights Nebraska Public Policy Specialist Brad Meurrens and UN-L Psychology Department graduate student Jesse Hochheiser, notes that a significant number of inmates with mental illness are placed in solitary confinement or “administrative segregation”. Once in segregation, their psychiatric symptoms and mental condition generally worsen. 

“Nebraska needs to ‘step up to the plate’ to address the needs of inmates with mental illness,” said Eric Evans, Chief Operating Officer of Disability Rights Nebraska.   

The report emphasizes the importance of effective in-house treatment for inmates with mental illness, along with reforms in the use of solitary confinement.  It also notes that the vast majority of inmates in jails and prisons will eventually be released.  Assisting inmates who experience mental illness with “reentry” and discharge planning before release is key for successful transition from corrections to the community.  Releasing an inmate without adequate discharge planning is like saying “Good luck – we will see you again,” said Brad Meurrens, Public Policy Specialist for Disability Rights Nebraska. 

Studies show a released prisoner’s unmet need for mental health care can trigger another encounter with the criminal justice system.  According to the report, a responsive mental health system will work to prevent involvement with criminal justice and maintain, for released prisoners with mental illness, the ability to live independently.

The report has been shared with Nebraska legislators and their staff in an effort to initiate policy changes to promote a more holistic view of incarcerated individuals who experience a mental illness.  The goal is to reduce the mental health services gap and reduce recidivism among individuals who are released.


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