Fact Sheets About
Growing numbers of men and women with severe mental illnesses are in jail or prison. Many cycle through correctional facilities repeatedly, at great cost to themselves and their families, criminal justice systems and communities.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 284,000 men and women in jail have a severe mental illness such as schizophrenia or manic depression--16% of all inmates.1 These individuals may be entitled to federal benefits that provide access to mental health and addiction treatment services and to income support that pays for housing and other basic needs.
Very few states or localities have policies that assist qualified individuals in applying for these benefits prior to discharge from jail or prison, despite the understanding that poverty and lack of access to health care can lead to incidents that greatly increase the likelihood that these individuals will have further contact with law enforcement. Without income support or health coverage, many people with severe mental illnesses become caught in a cycle of recidivism.
To aid state and local policymakers in understanding federal rules on entitlement programs with respect to individuals with mental illnesses who have been convicted and are serving time in jail, the Bazelon Center published a report, Finding the Key, which explains Medicaid and disability program rules and how to ensure timely access to these benefits upon release.
These individuals may also be eligible for other important federal entitlements including Medicare, Veterans cash benefits and health care, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Food Stamps.
These fact sheets describe the benefits and the relevant provisions in federal law and regulation that govern how the benefits may be lost or suspended upon incarceration and, most importantly, how they can be restored promptly upon release. They are PDF files, which require the free Adobe Reader to view, download and print.
1. Bureau of Justice Statistics (1999). Mental Health and Treatment of Inmates and Probationers. NCJ-174463. Washington, D.C.: US Department of Justice.