Our prisons in crisis mode

By

Opinion

October 29, 2019 - 10:20 AM

Kansas faces a prison crisis of crowded facilities and escalating costs to taxpayers. Fixing that requires addressing mental health, and the grim reality that our approach to the mentally ill is often to imprison them.

In fairness, America has evolved on this issue. Historically, states often forced the mentally ill — especially the poor — into state-run institutions where they faced involuntary sterilization. In Kansas, from 1913 to 1961, the state sterilized over 3,000 individuals, mostly with mental illnesses.

In the 1960s, states started to deinstitutionalize the mentally ill, shifting the care burden to families, nursing homes, or other community-based settings. But states often failed to follow through on promises to fund these alternatives. This meant that more people with mental illness lacked access to adequate care, which often resulted in homelessness and incarceration.

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