On June 6, Natalie Holbrook, program director of the American Friends Service Committee’s Michigan Criminal Justice Program, provided recommendations to House Law and Justice Committee members about the difficulty in reducing the number of mentally ill prisoners in prison. The AFSC focuses on reducing Michigan’s prison population through individual advocacy and casework with prisoners building toward systemic change efforts. Holbrook said:
We need robust services that start inside [prison] and accompany people back to
the community. We cannot talk about diversion without also investigating and funding in-prison treatment and re-entry treatment and housing.
In February 2016 there were 9,400 people with mental illness incarcerated in Michigan’s prison system. Approximately 50 percent of these individuals have serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and psychosis. Echoing the need for early intervention strategies, Holbrook said:
Many people who have struggled with mental illness in their communities are left without safety nets to help them cope with their illnesses and therefore may find themselves having more interactions with law enforcement and eventually the criminal courts.
Holbrook made the following recommendations:
- Ban the use of administrative segregation for individuals with mental illness.
- Develop a Prison Mental Health Commission directed to develop an action study of the Michigan Department of Corrections’ (MDOC) mental health policies.
- Establish a MDOC report on individuals in the mental health program that are past their earliest parole release date.
- Establish a process to review cases of individuals with mental illness who are eligible for parole.
- Provide crisis intervention training to all MDOC staff who have with direct prisoner contact.