Dear Knox County Citizens,

It is time that we understand the true effects of imprisonment without treatment in Maine. Just in 2022 alone, 14 people have died of very preventable causes in Maine prisons and jails. One hundred people have died of similar causes in the past decade within these centers. The causes for these deaths were due to untreated substance abuse and mental health disorders; treatment for which the state does not provide in its prisons and jails. Hundreds of good people and their families have been affected unnecessarily, and as these conditions continue, hundreds more of our local friends and family will be unjustly affected.

Why is Maine a target for this kind of under-treatment in prisons and jails? As a state, we have underfunded our community mental and behavioral health supports for decades. Since mental health facilities are underfunded, this means jails are the often only place open to send people experiencing mental health breakdowns.

Let’s get to the facts. Research shows that approximately 20% of people in jails nationwide have serious and persistent mental health problems (Treatment Advocacy Center, 2016). Sixty percent of men and 85% of women entering Maine’s prisons have been identified as needing substance use disorder treatment (Bangor Daily News, 2019). Incarcerating people with serious mental health challenges worsens their mental health: it removes them from society and can take away purpose and meaning from their lives. This leads to people quickly deteriorating once they are incarcerated.

Why should you care? Because mental health and substance abuse disorders affect a large number of individuals in the state, and the numbers continue to grow with the COVID-19 pandemic and as houselessness, poverty, and lack of affordable housing increase. Any of these issues can affect any member of our local communities, and people should not have to spend time in jail or prison or risk criminal convictions in order to have access to treatment. Our tax dollars need to be better allocated to provide public support in therapy, case managers, housing, and other supports.

Thank you,

A.Z., Astara Moon Zuorski