About three in 10 inmates in Iowa’s prison system have some form of serious mental illness often linked to substance abuse, and the problem gets even bigger when the population is expanded to offenders who are under supervised release in Iowa communities, state officials said Tuesday.
“We are the largest mental health institute in Iowa,” Dr. Harbans Deol, medical director for the state Department of Corrections, told Senate Judiciary Committee members in presenting data indicating that 2,589 offenders in Iowa’s 8,333 prison population in 2012 were diagnosed as having serious mental illnesses.
Deol said the largest segment, nearly 30 percent, had substance use disorders, followed by inmates suffering from depression and major depressive disorders (18 percent), anxiety and panic disorders (14.7 percent) and personality disorders (10.8 percent). The rankings were similar for male and female offenders, he noted.
The medical director said many of the problems are identified during the screening process at entry, but he noted that a bigger worry are those offenders who do not tell corrections officials about problems they have or medications they may have been taken for chemical imbalances so staff members are trained to look for triggers or stressors that may point to issues not initially identified and treated. The system often has 30-40 inmates on suicide watch at any given week due to mental illnesses, he noted.
Are Iowa’s prisons the right place to house and treat mentally ill people who commit crimes?