Prisons have many goals in society, among them are to punish one for their crimes and rehabilitate said criminal so that they may at some point rejoin society as a functional and successful member. When it comes to the subject of the criminally insane being incarcerated in a prison, the subject becomes blurred in shades of grey. A traditional prison is incapable of providing the services it is meant to.
Most prisoners know that the crimes they have committed are wrong. They have the mental capacity to comprehend the consequences of their actions and still chose to break the law. A sane individual walks into a bank with a gun in his hand knowing full well that he is going to commit a crime and that if he is caught he will be serving time. A criminally insane individual does not have this capacity. Often times they have no understanding of the reasons for their punishment or even know they have committed a crime.
Mentally ill individuals often have no grasp on reality, let alone what is right or wrong. They struggle to function within the legal bounds of society because they are incapable of understanding what those boundaries are. No amount of time in a prison is going to teach them or help them. These individuals have a legitimate disease and they need a doctor’s care for any chance of rehabilitation.
Furthermore, it borders on cruelty to place these people in the prison environment and surround them with violent criminals. A prison is a dangerous place for a regular prisoner, but for a mentally ill individual who has no understanding of what is happening or why it is happening, it is an unnecessary risk. They do not have the coping skills to survive safely.
Another reason that prison is the wrong choice for the criminally insane is that it puts the employees at risk. The methods they use to control sane inmates have no bearing on a mentally ill person. The employees of a prison do not receive the years of training necessary to handle and care for a criminally insane individual.
The best solution for mentally ill individuals that have committed crimes is an institute that specializes in providing the care and medical help that these individuals need. The employees are trained to understand and help these people. Doctors are available to diagnose and work to find a way for the criminally insane to get better. Being mentally ill is not a conscious choice that leads to ignoring the rules of society; it is a medical disorder and therefore should be treated as such.