Because we don’t count it doesn’t mean it doesn’t count

Question MarksWe know that as of November 28, 2013 there were 13,110 individuals incarcerated by the Nevada Department of Corrections.  We know that the average age at intake (median) is 32 for men and 33 for women.   We know that 12,856 are categorized as “in house” population.  [NVDC pdf] Further, we know that 91.63% of our prison population is male, 8.37% female; and, 45.56% of the population is white, 27.85% are African American, 21.69% are Hispanic, with 1.76% Native American.

What we don’t know may be more revealing.  How many of these inmates suffer from mental illnesses?  How many of them have physical disabilities?  From the 2011 Annual Audit (pdf) of the Nevada Department of Corrections we can learn that there are two institutions designated “Medical Centers” for the NVDC,  and one designated Mental Health Center.  There are three Substance Abuse Treatment centers, and one designated Geriatric Unit.

The Nevada Department of Corrections describes its medical services as follows:

“Each major institution has a medical and dental clinic and some infirmary capacity.  There are two institutions with on-site acute care infirmaries with approximately 91 infirmary beds.  The medical staff engages in over 600 patient care contacts each day statewide.  The Medical Division provides primary care at each institution and on-site clinics are held periodically with outside specialists such as cardiologists, surgeons, and gastroenterologists.  The Medical Division also provides hospitalization in community hospitals when necessary.”

Again, this information tells us the outline of services available for treating inmates in Nevada prisons, but it doesn’t give us the numbers of individuals treated.   What we don’t know renders the related issues cloudy.  For example, there’s the uncomfortable estimate floating around that of 2010 there were 9.8 seriously mentally ill persons incarcerated for every one who was being treated in a mental health facility.  [NPW]  If this is accurate then it does tend to encourage the conclusion that we are more likely to lock up our mentally ill than to hospitalize them.

The Department of Corrections reports that there is a $9.29 average cost for medical services provided per inmate.  [NVDC pdf]  Administration costs $4.77 per inmate, and “programs” cost $1.46.

The NIMH reports, now somewhat dated, offer a dismal glance at that happens to — or for — mentally ill inmates:

“The Department of Justice’s Survey of Inmates in State and Federal Correctional Facilities (2004) and Survey of Inmates in Local Jails (2002) also indicate that fewer than half of inmates who have a mental health problem have ever received treatment for their problem. A third or fewer received mental health treatment after admission. These rates differ depending upon the type of correctional facility.”

If we are having some difficulty interpreting the numbers associated with the treatment of mentally ill prisoners in the Nevada system, the screen goes blank when seeking information about the physically handicapped, the visually impaired or blind, and the deaf.

Some of the inmates who fall into these categories may qualify for Nevada’s initiative to deal with an aging prison population.  [CGAct] Again, what we don’t know is how many, and under what circumstances, those less than 50 or 60 years of age fare with services for disabled individuals in Nevada prisons.

Given the highly generalized,  outdated, or incomplete information publicly available it may be timely to call for some more specific, recent, and complete information about Nevada’s incarcerated population before the next session of the Legislature.

  • How many individuals housed in Nevada prison facilities are mentally ill?  How many of these are severe cases? Moderate cases?  Mild? Are there transitional programs in place for those returning to public life? Are these adequately staffed and funded?
  • How many non-elderly inmates are physically disabled?  Do Nevada prisons conform to the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act in this regard?
  • How many non-elderly inmates are visually impaired or blind? Are the Braille programs in southern Nevada be replicated in the northern facilities?  Are these services adequate to maintain or enhance prisoner safety?
  • How many inmates are hearing impaired? Deaf? How many are prelingually deaf?  Are adequate measures and facilities in place to insure their safety and lines of communication?

Again, merely because there are some items we don’t count doesn’t mean the issues don’t exist, or that they don’t matter.

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