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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The Stork: It’s a Bird of War!!

The Stork: It’s a Bird of War

The Stork is one of Nina Paley’s earlier animated films. The Stork starts out as a pleasant children’s cartoon, but before long it turns into something more sardonic and sinister, closer to Apocalypse Now. It’s a decidedly provocative, but at the same time very funny look at the perils of population explosion.

When Paley first began work on this short film, she predicted that it would provoke lots of anger, “be extremely unpopular, and possibly end my animation career.” Nevertheless, The Stork went on to play at The Sundance Festival and numerous other festivals, winning awards all along the way.

The Stork: The Bird of War

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Ms. Olive Riley: The World’s Oldest Blogger Dies at 108

Audio: BBC Interview with Mike Rubbo, Olive Riley’s Assistant

Ms Olive Riley: The World’s Oldest Blogger Dies at 108

Ms. Olive Riley died over the weekend in a nursing home on the central coast of New South Wales, Australia, at the age of 108. Born in Broken Hill in 1899, Ms. Olive returned in 2004 for a filming of the documentary about her life, All About Olive.

Since early last year, she had written about 70 entries on her life experiences and posted them on her blog, All About Riley. Ms. Olive’s blog had a large following of readers from all over the world. In her final post, dated June 26th, an increasingly frail Olive noted that she couldn’t “shake off that bad cough.” She also wrote, “I read a whole swag of email messages and comments from my internet friends today, and I was so pleased to hear from you. Thank you, one and all.”

What follows is an earlier posting, which I wrote upon the occasion of celebrations for Ms. Olive’s 108th birthday:

Miss Olive Riley Makes a Toast!

Miss Olive, will be turning 108 in two days. Over at Miss Olive’s blog, The Life of Riley, they’ve already started the celebration. The home where Olive lives insists that they can hold birthday celebrations only on weekdays. But heck, she’s already live 3,9417 days, so what’s another two, right?

Born in 1899 in Broken Hill, Australia (just outside of Sydney), Miss Olive started her blog, what she calls a “blob,”in February of this year. The entries consist largely of Riley’s transcriptions to her friend Mike, where she talks about her day to day events and also tells stories from her 108 years of life.

The Documentary: All About Olive

Miss Olive’s Birthday Party

ABC News: Miss Olive’s Birthday Party

You can read a much earlier article about Ms. Olive here.

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