Inmates Should be forced to take Medication while Incarcerated

By: Jenna Steele
I. Introduction:

Criminals who are serving their sentences in Correctional Facilities who have severe mental disorders should be forced to take medication until their release date. Criminals who have committed crimes due to their mental illness lost their right to chose if they want take medication when they broke the law. Criminals who commit crimes are denied personal rights in many ways so why should medication be any different? Mentally ill inmates who refuse to take their medication can cause a variety of issues inside the Correctional Facility. Inmates who refuse medication could become violent and dangerous to not only the other inmates but the corrections officers as well as themselves. Refusing medication and treatment can also hinder the inmates process in rehabilitation and ruin their chances at parole. Medication and therapy can help inmates train themselves to a routine that helps them deal with their illness and traumas outside of prison, inmates who do not participate in medication and therapy are more likely to reoffend and end up back in the prison systems. These reasons and many others are why criminals with severe mental health disorders should be forced to take medication while in the custody of the State or Federal Prison Systems.

II. According to The Treatment Advocacy Center, “Overall, approximately 20% of inmates in jails and 15% of inmates in state prisons are now estimated to have a serious mental illness. Based on the total inmate population, this means approximately 383,000 individuals with severe psychiatric disease were behind bars in the United States.” (1) Prisoners who have severe mental disorders that refuse to take medication or participate in therapy could potentially become violent. Inmates who have prolonged untreated mental illness are easily more agitated causing them to have more violent outburst then inmates who do not suffer from mental illness. Due to their impaired way of thinking minor incidents can be turned into an altercation which could lead the inmate to being put into solitary confinement. Solitary confinement could harm an inmate with mental disorders severely. Isolation may be keeping the inmate safe from other inmates, but it does extreme harm on someone’s psyche and it is highly damaging to someone suffering from severe mental illness. Inmates who have prolonged mental illness that are sent to solitary confinement have ended up having worse symptoms then before they went into solitary confinement. According to an article written by Jo Sahlin for Good Therapy (2), “Strict rules and isolation can exacerbate stress. An individual may develop additional mental health concerns as they adjust to the transition.” Not only is solitary confinement damaging but just the general adjustment to prison life can be extremely depressing to those with mental illness.  The leading cause of death in prisons is suicide, fifteen to twenty percent of suicides are by someone with severe mental illness. A Study in Washington found that Seventy-Seven percent of inmates with mental illness have attempted suicide. (3) Goss, J.R., Peterson, K., Smith, L.W., Kalb, K., Brodey, B.B. (2002). That is way more than the general population of inmates who hold just fifteen percent of attempted suicide in prison. Inmates with mental disorders have also provoked fights between other inmates to cause self-harm putting other inmates at risk as well.

III. Lack of therapy and medication can cause inmates to do irrational things while inside the prison causing demerits and other infractions that could hinder their chances at parole as well as privileges that could help with rehabilitation. Losing access to phone privileges and TV privileges, could cause even more tension inside the inmate causing them to have even more disciplinary issues. These privileges however small they seem are detrimental in helping the inmate cope with life inside the prison system, If the inmate were on medication and attended therapy the likelihood of these infractions is smaller. Less altercations happen when inmates feel at ease and are in a structured lifestyle, when that is interrupted by outburst or fighting it can cause a major damage to the inmates.  A study done by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, “Inmates with serious mental illness may be more likely to accumulate disciplinary sanctions while incarcerated, thereby reducing their opportunity for parole. These inmates may also be less likely to qualify for parole because of lack of available housing or limited mental health treatment options in the community” (4). Parole is something that an inmate with mental disorder could look forward to and help give them a reason for wanting to really rehabilitate themselves after their sentence.  Keeping a positive frame of mind is crucial to someone with severe mental disorder that is serving long sentences. Serving a long sentence is already something mentally daunting and especially so for someone who have untreated mental illnesses and having some sort of positive reinforcement can make all the difference in how the inmate responds to life inside the correctional facility. Losing privileges you do have in prison and losing a chance at parole could be the thing that makes an inmate with untreated mental illness do something drastic like self-harm or harming others.

IV. Not only is taking medication and therapy vital for a smooth incarceration but it helps with developing a routine that can help the inmate once they are civilians again. Developing a routine with medications help a patient remember taking their pills or develop the muscle memory to where it is second nature to take their treatments regularly. While prisons all over the U.S. have adequate resources to provide mental health care while the inmate is inside, outside of prison they may not be able to afford adequate health care. According to Michael Stensland 1, Peter R Watson, Kyle L Grazier (2012) (5) article “An examination of costs, charges, and payments for inpatient psychiatric treatment in community hospitals”, The average cost to deliver care was highest for Medicare and lowest for the uninsured: schizophrenia treatment, $8,509 for 11.1 days and $5,707 for 7.4 days, respectively; bipolar disorder treatment, $7,593 for 9.4 days and $4,356 for 5.5 days; depression treatment, $6,990 for 8.4 days. Cost of medication would be expensive for anyone but especially difficult for ex-offenders who have trouble finding work after their incarceration. While inmates are in prison, they can receive treatments without having to pay for it which is something that could help them figure out ways to receive affordable treatment outside of prison. Deciding to not use medication and therapy inside of prison never gives an inmate the chance to realize how much those things could help them rehabilitate and live outside of prison.

V. Conclusion:

Forcing inmates to take medications while incarcerated is the right thing to do whether the prisoner wants to take it or not. Criminals who are convicted of crimes because of their mental illness lose the right to decide if they should take medication the moment they are convicted. Forcing medication can create a safer environment for every party involved including the inmate themselves. Less altercations and disciplinary actions are beneficial to the prisoner themselves. Medication can help with treating the symptoms of major mental illnesses that could cause such altercations and disciplinary actions. With the help of medication and therapy the inmate themselves can learn ways to cope with their illness that they might not have been able to access outside of prison. Denying those treatments could cause harmful consequences for the inmate without them realizing how it could potentially hurt them in the long run. Not only could it result in violent altercations it could cause them to be put in solitary which is known to exacerbate symptoms in people with severe mental illnesses. Inmates who do not take medications have a higher chance of being denied parole due to outburst or altercations with other inmates. Parole is something that helps the inmate keep a positive outlook inside prison and without the proper medications and treatment they could do something drastic when denied parole. Self-harm is common and one of the leading results from lack of proper treatment and continuous isolation from society. In the U.S. medications and therapy for an average citizen is expensive and not covered under certain insurance plans, making it hard to pay for. Paying for medication and treatments are even harder for ex-cons who have trouble keeping a job is almost impossible. Taking medications and talking to professional doctors about your mental illness inside prison could reveal ways to help pay for these medications and therapies outside of prison. Forcing inmates to take medication while they are incarcerated is beneficial for the inmate and the correctional facility and should be something practiced in every prison across the U.S.


1. https://www.treatmentadvocacycenter.org/storage/documents/backgrounders/smi-in-jails-and-prisons.pdf

2. https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/prison-problem-recidivism-rates-mental-health-0520187

3. Characteristics of suicide attempts in a large urban jail system with an established suicide prevention program. Psychiatric Services, 53, 574–579

4.  Parole Revocation Among Prison Inmates With Psychiatric and Substance Use Disorders

Jacques Baillargeon, Ph.D., Brie A. Williams, M.D., Jeff Mellow, Ph.D., Amy Jo Harzke, M.P.H., Steven K. Hoge, M.D., Gwen Baillargeon, M.S., and Robert B. Greifinger, M.D.


5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22588167/


Peer Review Worksheet



Provide thorough and thoughtful responses to the following questions. Yes and No answers are insufficient, so comment, explain, and offer suggestions for all responses.

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