Friday Factoids: Mental Health and the Court System

  1. In 1976, the Supreme Court ruled that prisons are Constitutionally required to provide adequate medical care to inmates in their custody, meaning that prisoners are the only group of Americans with a Constitutional right to health care.
  2. The first mental health law in the country was the National Mental Health Act of 1946, which established the National Institutes for Mental Health and provided research funding to the states.
    1. Prior to this act, 1854 was the last attempt for a federal mental health law, with a bill setting aside 10 million acres of public lands for mental health facilities being vetoed by President Franklin Pierce, who viewed it as an overreach of federal power.
  3. In 1963, reform efforts began to take place to decentralize American Mental Health Care, and attempt to reform the system of institutions in place.
    1. At the time, there were 800,000 patients in Mental Health Institutions across the country.
  4. The response was the Community Mental Health Act, which provided for $329 million dollars for Community Mental Health programs.
    1. However, this funding was only for brick and mortar facilities and did not include funding for personnel.
    2. In 1965, Congress created Medicaid, which barred federal insurance payments to people in “institutions of mental health.”
  5. As a result of the Community Mental Health Act and other federal legislation, by 1998, the number of people in state and county mental hospitals dropped to fewer than 60,000.

If you would like to read more about the mental health system in relation to the courts, here are some additional resources.


Hannah Sutherland, MA, LPA (Temp)
WKPIC Doctoral Intern

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