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Washington Post: Letter to the Editor: Virginia is Doing Too Little to Address Mental Illness Among Prisoners Print

Regarding the Jan. 8 front-page article "Critics of Va. supermax prison doubt isolation is the solution":

Mental illness among the incarcerated has not received the attention due such a grave social problem. Mental illness is two to four times higher among prisoners than it is in the general population. Solitary confinement exacerbates the problem, as noted in The Post's article: Many experts argue it leads to higher suicide rates, increased depression, decreased brain function and hallucination.

In a study of more than 20,000 adults entering five local jails, researchers documented serious mental illness in 16.9 percent of those studied (14.5 percent of the men and 31 percent of the women). These rates are three to six times those found in the general population.

Yet the so-called treatment for mental illness in prison, as described in the article, can entail no more than a nurse and counselor coming by a prisoner's cell and asking him how he is doing — through the shutter in the door.

Solitary confinement — a process described by one person quoted in the article as "taking away people's socialization" — and minimal contact are clearly neither the environment nor the therapy required for addressing the mental illness of prisoners.

I agree with Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington) that the General Assembly should work to limit solitary confinement and increase the treatment offered to inmates. If we don't do more, we can be assured that recidivism will continue to occur at a high rate.

John Horejsi, Vienna

The writer is a member of the Virginia Prisoner and Juvenile Offender Reentry Council.