Corporate Exploitation of Mental Illness for Fun and Profit

In our article, “The Shame of Prison Privatization and the Treatment Industrial Complex” we touched upon the expansion of services provided by private corporations into the arenas of treatment for mental health and substance abuse disorders, as well as, into re-entry services for those exiting prisons and jails. Following a thirty year experiment, it became clear that the hyper-incarceration of predominantly non-violent offenders wasn’t working and that it was exceedingly costly. In this realization, legislators, courts, communities and police began to explore alternatives to incarceration.  These alternatives ranged from specialty courts (veterans, mental health and drug courts, for example) to supervised community release programs.

Not so fast said the private corrections industry.  As the national trends moved away from incarceration toward justice alternatives, private corporations that had earned billions packing their prisons then faced potential profit losses.   To offset these possible losses, they began looking for ways to expand into what is now being called the “Treatment-Industrial Complex”.  To build the treatment industrial complex, they preyed as they always had, on vulnerable populations.  In short, they were not going to give up their staggering profits, and certainly not on moral grounds.

Severe Mental Illness in New Mexico’s Prisons and Jails

One of the most vulnerable and often voiceless populations caught up in our justice system are those who suffer from SMI (Severe Mental Illness), diagnosed and undiagnosed alike, including those with the following disorders or diagnoses; Schizophrenia, Schizoaffective Disorder, Bi-Polar Disorder and Major Depression. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides a summary of SMI Disorders.The process of civil commitment is an area being closely studied and exploited by private corrections corporations.

According to the US Census Bureau and the National Institute of Mental Health, the total adult population of New Mexico stands at 1,590,352 (2016). There are over 17,000 people with Schizophrenia who are being treated and an additional 7,000 untreated.  There are 35,000 New  Mexicans suffering from Bi-Polar Disorder and who are being treated while an additional 18,000 who are not receiving treatment. That’s a total of over 77,000 people who suffer from a Severe Mental Illness (SMI). Those suffering from severe mental health conditions, particularly if not treated, are far more likely to run afoul of our justice system.

The Treatment Advocacy Center, a nationally-known organization which monitors these issues closely, noted that in 2005 there were 15,081 inmates in the State of New Mexico and of that number an estimated 2,413 suffered from an SMI. The State had a total psychiatric in-patient population of 732 in 2004. The likelihood of incarceration vs hospitalization for this sub-population stood at 3.3 to 1.

As healthcare options and coverage diminish and with the current administration’s throwback to the trumpets of mass-incarceration , the very vulnerable people suffering from an SMI are simply assets and liabilities to be traded.  During the tenure of the current governor, New Mexico has chosen to treat its mentally ill as liabilities to be taken off its ledgers through a deliberate and sustained elimination of mental health services.  Instead, they have been turned over to private corrections companies who now provide their “services” under the guise of mental health providers.

Make no mistake the private prison industry has taken the opportunity to target and exploit these vulnerable New Mexicans while they are most vulnerable.

A Glance at Civil Commitment in New Mexico

The aforementioned Treatment Advocacy Center provides a grading system for civil commitment laws in the United States and the State of New Mexico, across the board, gets a grade of “F”.  As in most states, there are some criteria for involuntary commitment to treatment;

  • Be a danger to self/others;
  • Be likely to benefit from treatment, and
  • Be subject to a proposed commitment that is consistent with treatment needs and least drastic means. (Harm to self includes grave passive neglect).

A minimum of 50 psychiatric beds per 100,000 people is considered to provide minimally adequate treatment for the severe mentally ill.  New Mexico has 11 beds per 100,000 residents. Between 2010 and 2016, in-patient psychiatric beds increased from 171 to 229—a 58 bed increase. Forensic patients occupied 19.2% of that small number.

In the State of New Mexico, the statutory provisions covering civil commitments may be referenced under Chapter 43 – Commitment Procedures, Article 1 – Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities.

Many national justice and mental health advocates are now watching forensic, civil commitments closely. In the State of New Mexico all healthcare in correctional institutions at the state and many at the county level are provided by private correctional healthcare contractors. This is a cause for concern.

Enhanced Incarceration

It may be said that having been deprived of mass incarceration, the new business plan for private corrections is enhanced incarceration.  One way to offset profit losses to reduced prison populations is to hold people longer and at higher rates to the states, towns and counties they “serve”.

Initial commitments are usually for a nine month period and then are subject for review and possible extension. Unlike regular prison sentencing, there’s technically no date of completion of sentence.  Instead, the staff for these companies determine subjectively whether the treatment goals have been met.  At an ever-increasing rate, the answer is no.

Private corrections contractors now have a new pool of human beings from whose misery they can potentially profit from greatly. What happens now is that the same private corporations who have made billions off the backs of prison and jail inmates are now presented with a very lucrative opportunity: They now have a population whose mental well-being is evaluated and determined by private healthcare providers who have every incentive to keep people right where there at.  Given the despicable track record of private corrections corporations can there be any doubt as to whether or not they will exploit such an opportunity?

Private correctional service corporations are expanding their range of services and the expansions are not benevolent or in keeping with the tenets of a civil and humane society, they are about profits and nothing more.

Photo by The U.S. National Archives

New Report Examines “Treatment Industrial Complex” | Prison Legal News

New Report Examines “Treatment Industrial Complex” | Prison Legal News As public and legislative pressure builds to reduce the number of prisoners held in state and federal correctional facilities, the private prison industry has changed gears to offer rehabilitative and treatment services – a shift criticized in a February 2016 report titled “Incorrect Care: A Prison Profiteer Turns Care into Confinement.” The report, published by Grassroots Leadership, a non-profit organization, claims that this latest venture is part of the “treatment industrial complex” – a nod to the confluence of political, social and business interests known as the prison industrial complex.

Stop the treatment industrial complex

Stop the treatment industrial complex | Politico Recently, however, the political and economic coalition that created mass incarceration has come under pressure. In 2014, 30 states passed laws aimed to reduce their prison populations. These are welcome developments. Mass incarceration is a moral abomination that must be acknowledged, repudiated and unraveled.

But a new system has emerged that bears many of the same features. You could call it the “treatment-industrial complex” — the growing network of facilities and companies built to handle court-ordered community corrections, correctional medical care, and mental health and civil commitment facilities.