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The U.S. jail system fails the mentally ill, low-risk

Being accused of a crime is bad enough, but can you imagine being jailed while you wait for your case to go to court, all because you can't post bail? This is one thing that an article about the condition of the United States prison and jail systems has discussed. The article from March 6 talks about the purpose of jails, which is to be a temporary holding space, and how that has now changed.

Initially, if you were jailed, you'd only be held if you were a danger to the outside public or if the court thought you were likely to run on release. The point of this method is to hold those people who shouldn't be allowed to be free for other people's safety during the period between the charges and conviction. Now, that's changed, this article claims.

Jails today may be doing more than holding just the dangerous or people who are flight risks. In fact, research about jailing has shown that around 31 percent of woman and 14.5 percent of men in jails are suffering from serious mental illnesses. Instead of jailing these people, it's more likely that they should be receiving mental health care.

Another thing that's been shown is that people accused of crimes that can't post bail are also being held, even though they aren't violent offenders or likely to flee. Many of these people haven't committed felonies, either. The bail could be lower than $500 in some cases.

What can be done about this problem? In some parts of the U.S., mental health services are provided to the mentally ill outside a jail setting. This prevents those with substance addiction or mental illness from serving a detention sentence without care. It can also help them stay out of jail by preventing recurring issues. Low-level offenders of any type may be better off with community service, like Hennepin County has decided to do in Minnesota. While Texas does jail individuals who have committed crimes, by agreeing to other options, like substance abuse therapy or community service, this could help you stay out of the jail cell.

Source: The Guardian, "US jails are warehouses of sick, poor and low-risk people" Julia Stasch, Mar. 06, 2015

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