Mental illness: more profitable than you might think

Add the mentally ill to illegal immigrants and non-violent drug offenders, and you have the magic profit formula for America’s private prison industry and its shareholders.

Mother Jones has a timeline illustrating how deinstitutionalization has moved thousands of mentally ill people out of hospitals—and into jails and prisons.

I’ve taken just the past 35 years of that timeline and pasted it below — notice Saint Raygun’s heartwarming contributions towards mental health services in 1981:

1977 There are 650 community health facilities serving 1.9 million mentally ill patients a year.
1980 President Jimmy Carter signs the Mental Health Systems Act, which aims to restructure the community mental health center program and improve services for people with chronic mental illness.
1981 Under President Ronald Reagan, the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act repeals Carter’s community health legislation and establishes block grants for the states, ending the federal government’s role in providing services to the mentally ill.  Federal mental health spending decreases by 30 percent.
1984 An Ohio-based study finds that up to 30 percent of homeless people are thought to suffer from serious mental illness.
1985 Federal funding drops to 11 percent of community mental health agency budgets.
1990 Clozapine, the first “atypical” anti-psychotic drug to be developed, is approved by the FDA as a treatment for schizophrenia.
2004 Studies suggest approximately 16 percent of prison and jail inmates are seriously mentally ill, roughly 320,000 people. This year, there are about 100,000 psychiatric beds in public and private hospitals. That means there are more three times as many seriously mentally ill people in jails and prisons than in hospitals.
2009 In the aftermath of the Great Recession, states are forced to cut $4.35 billion in public mental health spending over the next three years, the largest reduction in funding since deinstitutionalization.
2010 There are 43,000 psychiatric beds in America, or about 14 beds per 100,000 people—the same ratio as in 1850.

Read the whole thing: TIMELINE: Deinstitutionalization And Its Consequences

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From 2009 – 2012, these six states made the deepest cuts to their mental health budgets: South Carolina, Alabama, Alaska, Illinois, Nevada, District of Columbia, and California.

I wonder how many private prisons are in these states?

three pie charts in a row

Image: Mother Jones

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Largest Prison-Owning Corporation Issues Massive Dividend of $675 Million to Shareholders

If you want to make money these days, owning stock in a prison company is the place to do it.  The confinement of human beings, while selling their cheap labor to companies seeking to save on labor costs has become a cash cow.  One company that has benefited handsomely from the profit boom is the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).

CCA is the largest owner of private prisons in the nation, behind only the federal government and three states. The company just announced that it’s Board of Directors has declared a special dividend to shareholders of $675 million dollars.

…The CCA operates a total of 67 prison facilities throughout the United States, with a total capacity of 92,500 beds in 20 states and the District of Columbia.  The company was heavily criticized for offering to buy prisons in 48 states, in exchange for a guaranteed occupancy rate of at least 90%.

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It’s not just the private prison industry. Something else to consider:

A jury on Wednesday awarded a total of $240 million to 32 mentally disabled turkey processing plant workers in Iowa for what an expert witness described as years of “virtual enslavement” by [Henry's Turkey Service, of Goldthwaite, Texas] that oversaw their care, work and lodging…

During the weeklong trial that ended Wednesday, officials testified about the squalid conditions they found during a 2009 inspection of the bunkhouse where the men were housed. The building, which was in a rural area several miles from the West Liberty Foods turkey processing plant where they worked, was falling apart, infested with rodents and full of fire hazards.

Social workers spoke of the physical and verbal abuse the men said they had been subjected to by the Henry’s supervisors who oversaw their work and care. They said they had been forced to work through illness and injuries, denied bathroom breaks, locked in their rooms, kicked in the groin and, in one case, handcuffed to a bed…

By 2008, Henry’s was being paid more than $500,000 per year by West Liberty Foods, but it was paying the men the same $65 per month that it always had. The company docked the men’s wages and Social Security disability benefits, telling them it was to pay for the cost of their care and lodging, and it never applied for medical care or other services for the disabled that the men would have qualified for in Iowa.

Henry’s began employing mentally disabled men in the 1960s and 1970s who had been released from Texas mental institutions. Hundreds of them were sent to labor camps in Iowa and elsewhere in the coming decades, where they were supplied on contract as workers to local employers. Company officials argued that the arrangement was a benefit to the men, and that they were once praised for giving them employment opportunities…

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Related: 

Don’t ever say Republicans–with their deregulation and “pay workers less so CEOs can get more” and “corporations  are people” mentality–aren’t job creators. Companies like private prisons and Henry’s Turkey Service are just selective about the wages they want to pay and the type of workforce “willing” to work for those wages. Remember, it was the glassy-eyed Teaparty Queen, Michele Bachmann, who said that the federal minimum wage should be eliminated for the benefit of job growth.

Clearly if you deinstitutionalize the mentally ill / disabled, you’ll be able to make a handsome profit on their confinement in labor camps or prisons — with the added bonus that you won’t “waste” money on having to care for them. If the Republican Party had its way, we’d all be working for $65 a month in company housing that was falling apart.

American fundamentalist Christianity combined with deregulated Capitalism in 2013 – same as it ever was:

“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” – Ezekiel 16:49

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  1. Pingback: Mental illness: more profitable than you might think | The Rag Tree

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