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Report: Inmates With Mental Disabilities Often Subjected To Excessive Force

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

New allegations about the use of force by law enforcement. We've heard plenty recently about what police are accused of doing on the streets. This report focuses on excessive force against people already behind bars, people suffering from mental illness. NPR's Carrie Johnson reports.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: The new study says corrections officers too often deploy pepper sprays, Tasers and brute force against inmates with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Scholars say there are now 10 times more seriously mentally ill people incarcerated than in state psychiatric hospitals.

JAMIE FELLNER: There is no national data on how much or what kind of force is used behind bars.

JOHNSON: Jamie Fellner of Human Rights Watch wrote the report.

FELLNER: So the only way you really learn a lot about this is because somebody files a lawsuit. And lawsuits are usually only filed by individuals when somebody has died.

JOHNSON: Fellner says force should be a last resort. But she says her review concluded officers routinely turn to violence because inmates refuse to be quiet or stand up and be counted. We reached out to the American Correctional Association for comment, but didn't hear back. Still, a study last year by the Treatment Advocacy Center and the National Sheriffs Association points out prison guards have a tough job, one that's made even tougher when inmates suffer from mental illness. That's because prisons and jails lack training and resources to deal with them. Law enforcement groups say that's unfair to both inmates and corrections officers. Human Rights Watch says more should be done to divert nonviolent inmates out of the correction system and to train officers about how to de-escalate tense situations. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.