Trapped: Mentally Ill Persons in Our Nation’s Prisons and Jails

Photography by: Jenn Ackerman

Trapped: Mentally Ill Persons in Our Nation’s Prisons and Jails

The continuous withdrawal of mental health funding has turned jails and prisons across the U.S. into the default mental health facilities. A report in 2006 by the U.S. Department of Justice showed that the number of Americans with mental illnesses who are incarcerated in the nation’s prisons and jails is disproportionately high. Almost 555,000 people with mental illness are incarcerated, while fewer than 55,000 persons are being treated in designated mental health hospitals.

The problem with the mental health system in our country did not spring up overnight. “There was a shift in the way our society sees mental illness,” says psychologist Dr. Stephanie Roby. “We saw a fallout from the 1960s when we were institutionalizing everyone. Society reacted by saying the community needs to be more responsible for these individuals.”

The goal was to reduce the number of mental health patients housed in large government-operated, public psychiatric hospitals by shifting their care to local communities where programs would be created to handle their special needs. “It was a great idea in theory,” says Dr. Roby. “Unfortunately, mentally ill people do a lot of inappropriate things, they are misunderstood and they commit crimes….” As a result, they then have ended up as inmates in our country’s prisons and jails, rather than receiving treatment in mental health facilities.

Even worse, as the prisons and jails in our country have become the dumping ground for mentally ill people, we will end up simply replicating what happened in the 1960s when they just warehoused mentally ill persons in large public psychiatric hospitals and then sent them back onto the streets to fend for themselves.

The documentary video that is presented below was produced at The Kentucky State Reformatory in La Grange, Kentucky. “We are the surrogate mental hospitals now,” said Warden Larry Chandler. With the rapidly rising number of mentally ill prisoners, the reformatory was forced to rebuild a system that was designed for correctional security. It was never intended to be a mental health facility. However, by necessity mental health treatment has quickly become one of its primary goals. Unfortunately, this situation is not unique to Kentucky. The continuous withdrawal of mental health funding has turned jails and prisons all across the U.S. into the default mental health facilities.

Mentally Ill Prisoners at The Kentucky State Reformatory

Video by: Jenn Ackerman

You can read more about Jenn Ackerman’s project studying the treatment of mentally ill persons in the nation’s prisons and jails here.

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We Were Born to Shine: Obama Issues Commemoration for Gay Pride Month

Because We Believe:

Photography by: Annie Leibovitz

United States Senator Barack Obama released the following statement last week to commemorate Gay Pride Month:

“Pride Month is a reminder that while we have come a long way since the Stonewall riots in 1969, we still have a lot of work to do.

Too often, the issue of LGBT rights is exploited by those seeking to divide us. But at its core, this issue is about who we are as Americans. It’s about whether this nation is going to live up to its founding promise of equality by treating all its citizens with dignity and respect.

It’s time to turn the page on the bitterness and bigotry that fill so much of today’s LGBT rights debate. The rights of all Americans should be protected — whether it’s at work or anyplace else. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” needs to be repealed because patriotism and a sense of duty should be the key tests for military service, not sexual orientation. Civil unions should give gay couples full rights. And those who commit hate crimes should be punished no matter whether those crimes are committed on account of race, religion, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

This Pride Month, let’s make our founding promise of equality a reality for every American.”

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