Over the past half-century, the availability of public psychiatric beds in the U.S. has decreased to 43,000 from 559,000, even as the population has increased. When individuals with severe mental illnesses are hospitalized at all, they are not kept long enough to become stabilized because of the bed shortage. Many are eventually incarcerated for petty crimes or worse.
A 2010 survey by the Treatment Advocacy Center reported that there are over three times more severely mentally ill individuals in jails and prisons than in hospitals. The problem is further exacerbated by state commitment laws that impede the hospitalization of those who resist treatment.
E. Fuller Torrey and Doris A. Fuller in The Wall Street Journal.