Ohio Gov. and likely Republican presidential candidate John Kasich argued last week that the number of mentally ill people in prison is "a disgrace" and touted the changes made by his administration to help treat those afflicted.
Speaking on May 26 at a GOP luncheon in Fulton County, Georgia, Kasich recalled how, when questioned by his daughter, he could not justify the practice of imprisoning the mentally ill.
"We have 10,000 people in our prisons who have mental illness," Kasich said, apparently referring to an estimate for the state of Ohio. "Reese and I were watching 60 Minutes one Sunday and they were having this story of them locking the mentally ill up in the prisons and she looked at me and she said, 'Daddy, why are those people being locked up?' I couldn't answer her satisfactorily, other than to say, 'We seem to ignore these people.' Now I don't know how many of you know people who struggle with these illnesses but if you've got a problem with schizophrenia and you find yourself in a prison? It's a disgrace in this country."
Kasich further said that, though he considered the movement to legalize drugs a form of "insanity," his administration was committed to "rehabbing the drug addicted," including those behind bars.
"We believe that by treating people in the prisons and releasing them into the community for treatment, our recidivism rate could be as low as 10% with them," he claimed. "Our recidivism rate in Ohio in our prisons is 27%, as opposed to a 50% national average. So we give people a chance and hope, if they want to work their way out."
Though reports have shown that, in Ohio, as in the country as a whole, there are approximately 10 times as many mentally ill people in prison as in psychiatric hospitals, Kasich's administration had taken efforts to ameliorate the issue. A budget released in February called for doubling the funding of addiction services in prisons, an acknowledgment that, as Kasich said in his speech last Tuesday, "80% of the people in our prisons" have a history of substance abuse. The budget was also designed to encourage judges to put first-time, nonviolent offenders in community programs, as opposed to prison. Kasich also signed a bill clarifying the right of judges to order outpatient treatments for people over 18 who are suffering from mental illness.
At the lunch in Georgia, Kasich appeared to reiterate a defense of his decision to accept federal money to expand Medicaid, an option rejected by many of his Republican peers, who say the program will ultimately cost states more money.
Medicaid covers substance abuse treatment — though, during the program's expansion under Obamacare, there have been some problems with actually delivering substance abuse coverage to greater numbers.
"Now I went and brought $14 billion in the process of bringing $14 billion back from Washington to help solve — it's our money, it's Ohio money. There's no money in Washington, by the way. It's all ours. We sent it there," he said. "So I'm bringing as much of mine as I can get back. So now we are treating the mentally ill."
Christopher Massie is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Christopher Massie at Christopher.Massie@buzzfeed.com.
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