Sana Campbell has been trying unsuccessfully for years to get her schizophrenic son, Christopher Sharikas, transferred to a psychiatric facility from prison, where he is serving multiple life sentences for a violent carjacking. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)
 September 24 at 6:19 PM  The Washington Post
Once a week, Sana Campbell makes a 3 1 /2 -hour drive from her Gainesville, Va., home to see her son in prison. She has been visiting him in one lockup or another for two decades, ever since he was arrested for a violent and random act: stabbing a woman in the back and stealing her car.Christopher Sharikas was 17 years old at the time and had been recently diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Campbell does not deny her son’s actions. But she believes his illness led to his crimes and his harsh sentence, leaving him to deteriorate in prison to a low from which experts say he will never rebound.Sharikas illustrates one of the biggest problems facing the criminal justice system: the large number of prisoners who are sane enough to be held accountable at a trial but struggle with severe mental illness behind bars. A majority of state and federal prisoners have either been diagnosed with a mental-health disorder or were currently in severe psychological distress, according to a 2017 Justice Department reportbased on data from 2011 and 2012.

“Our jails and prisons have become shadow mental-health facilities,” said Dominic Sisti, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania who has advocated expanding hospitalization for the mentally ill. While mental-health treatment has been focused for several decades on community-based services, he said, “There’s going to be a population of folks who just can’t do it.”