Our Managing Director of Justice Initiatives Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia spoke with June Leffler of 1A Remaking America on September 8, 2022.

Millions of people enter jail in the U.S. every year. They’ve become a revolving door for those with mental health issues or substance-abuse disorders.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that inmates are entitled to life-saving medical care, but that isn’t quite guaranteed.

“The jailers don’t recognize that jails are, in fact, de facto the largest drug detoxification centers in the country, the largest mental illness facilities in the country. And so these jails require a level of treatment that’s just totally missing,” said Andrew Klein who wrote “Death before Sentencing: Ending Rampant Suicide, Overdoses, Brutality, and Malpractice in America’s Jails.” “The result is a totally unacceptable death rate across the country in the nation’s jails.” 

Jail deaths rose 11 percent since 2000 when the U.S. Department of Justice began tallying these deaths. Suicides are the leading cause of jail deaths. Fatal drug overdoses are the fastest growing cause of death.

Maggie Luna spent time in and out of jails in Texas. She was left feeling despondent when she asked for help with her mental health and addiction to opioids.

“[Staff] feel a need that it’s their job to perpetuate punishment… instead of looking at it as a place where you are there to help this person become better,” Luna said.

We look at why jail can be so harmful. And we talk about what mental health and substance abuse resources are available to inmates.