Trapped: Mental Illness in America's Prisons.
December 7, 2008 10:06 AM   Subscribe

Trapped: Mental Illness in America's Prisons by Jenn Ackerman.

It's kind of very depressing. A mix of video, interviews and photographs. via HCSP.
posted by chunking express (17 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Wow. Thanks for posting this.

The key to prison films is how much access the filmmakers are granted to the prisoners themselves - be sure to click the other links which has interviews with prisoner watchers and the prisoners themselves.
posted by dydecker at 10:19 AM on December 7, 2008

Yeah there is a lot of interesting stuff on the site. I think she is trying to produce a feature length documentary now, but needs more cash money.
posted by chunking express at 11:00 AM on December 7, 2008

This is the nightmare of every parent, every sibling of an individual with mental illness. I live in the fear that my schizoaffective stepdaughter will quit going to her day program and steal another car. I am infinitely grateful that my autistic brother is in a group home now, with 24-hour care, and the police don't follow him any more when he screams "Don't kill me!" in the mall. The American prison system *has* become the de facto mental health facility for medically impoverished (and just plain impoverished.)

Change has to begin with you and me. These are someone's children, someone's brother or sister, someone's friend, who literally has lost their mind. Please don't forget them when you vote, because it's public money that supports them.
posted by luminous phenomena at 11:09 AM on December 7, 2008 [8 favorites]

good god. 'kind of depressing'? there wasn't a single shred of of even a whiff of hope in that. fascinating, heartbreaking, and a sad commentary on society.

aside from the fact that i'm not sure if i should cry or find a place to volunteer, or dig for 'disposal' income & find an appropriate place to donate it to, this woman takes some beautiful, powerful photographs. her blog has a couple great photo essays.
posted by msconduct at 11:09 AM on December 7, 2008

Related thread.
posted by homunculus at 11:12 AM on December 7, 2008

I am not sure of this (what I am about to say) but I had believed that many of those who were deemed in need of mental health--ie, insane, troubled--had been housed in special places (called, alas, insane asylums originally) , built and maintained by each state, but that at some time when drugs were found that could "maintain" many of the inmates, they were sent out, many to halfway houses. Alas, many, not taking their necessary drugs became part of that larger group we call street people. In sum, those in need got free, put out on the streets, or mixed in with criminals in theprison system for lack of proper identification as to who they were and places to put them.
posted by Postroad at 1:09 PM on December 7, 2008

seems to me everyone was better off when these people were in some type of institution, or home.
apparently somebody thought otherwise, and said let's let them out to mingle with society. they can make it on their own. christ, take a walk around manhattan any day, and tell me how many crazies you run into. they'd be better off in some place, in the country, with calming surroundings.
posted by billybobtoo at 1:32 PM on December 7, 2008

msconduct, to be fair I said the video was kind of very depressing.
posted by chunking express at 2:55 PM on December 7, 2008

billybobtoo, there was a great turning-out of psychiatric hospitals in the 70s. it really was a kind of a civil rights issue -- in the midst of all the other great social movements of the mid-20th century. there were some hideous practices which were just accepted as SOP in psychiatric hospitals, and the movement to shut down these horrific places was meant as a way to acknowledge human rights even for the criminally insane (and non-violent sufferers of serious mental illness).

of course, the problem with this massive shut-down of residential facilities is partially what led to the situation we're in now -- de facto psych wards in prisions and jails all across the US.

chunking express, i'm not sure a "thank you" is quite the sentiment i mean to express...i'm glad that you made this post, even as i weep for its contents. and it's days like this when i feel particularly FPP about a sikh singer has twice as many comments as a post about the most needy in our society. i'm just left utterly speechless when i consider the least among us...or, what's worse, how the 'best' among us treat the 'least' among us. this is the kind of thing that i want to shove in rush limbaugh's face when he slams on people who are critical of the US. we deserve criticism and shame for how we treat the mentally ill in this country.

sorry to be such a downer.
posted by CitizenD at 4:16 PM on December 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

You know, maybe it's just me, but I've noticed a growing trend in the US where people don't think insanity should excuse someone from crimes. Even in cases where the perpetrator is obviously crazy, and they'll admit that the perpetrator is crazy, and that the insanity caused the crime, they still want to see them thrown in prison. Often, people who think like this won't even accept permanent institutionalization as a sentence - it has to be prison. Insane or not, they want the perpetrator to suffer.

Anyone else noticed this?
posted by Mitrovarr at 4:48 PM on December 7, 2008

Anyone else noticed this?

I think it's because for many Americans, insanity, much like poverty, is no one else's fault but your own. American's are pretty damn punitive too when it comes to crime in general. God damn Puritans.
posted by chunking express at 4:55 PM on December 7, 2008

Actually, de-institutionalization wasn't the problem. The problem was the failure to provide community-based services (which *are* cheaper, more effective and more humane) to replace the psychiatric warehouses for people with psychosis.

When you do provide such community-based services like halfway houses, supportive housing and programs like Fountain House, people with mental illness can do much better in the community then they did being restrained chemically and physically in institutions.

We basically do not care for children, people with mental illness, people with addictions, etc.-- we think everyone should be self-sufficient and if you aren't, you are property or worse.
posted by Maias at 7:05 PM on December 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

"You know, maybe it's just me, but I've noticed a growing trend in the US where people don't think insanity should excuse someone from crimes."

Seen a lot of that actually. It's astonishing behavior. I'm no psychologist, so I can't diagnose, but 'crazy' yeah, on some people you can see 'crazy.' There was this one guy, did all kinds of weird stuff connected with the Mars lander and meth, etc. - his grandmother was going to have him committed (couldn't take care of him anymore) so the voices in his head told him essentially, since Jesus was on Mars and would be coming home on the robot he had to kill his grandmother and remove her head to prepare her body for the holy spirit, etc. etc. etc. - I could go on, but he was very much gone and did things to more or less prove that.
And it's not like there was any consistent monologue - he couldn't even keep that bit of his head together.
So he was brought in for murder and put in an insanity plea and was remanded to a hospital for the criminally insane.
One thing I won't forget, he was brought in to court, some folks were calling him 'killer' and 'murderer' etc. and handing some low key verbal abuse his way.
Struck me as ridiculous. He didn't even really know where he was. It was obvious.

Anyway, on the one hand, I think this is a hazard of using law enforcement as one of the sole methods of dealing (or re-warehousing) folks with mental illnesses.

On the other hand, some people are just abusive idiots. I mean, I'd put down a rabid dog, but I wouldn't berate the dog afterwards. Even if he understood you - what's the point?
But I don't think some folks think that way, that they're dealing with an illness not someone who's willfully doing something or making it up.

Like what, only thing stopping me from flipping out and believing the moon God wants me to shave my legs, kill my family and bathe in tapioca pudding is because I'm a nice guy? I don't think so.

And I do mean 'some people are abusive idiots' - not 'the L.E. in the U.S.' or some such.
(As it happens there are some abusive idiots in law enforcement). There's a long history in the world of equating disease of any kind with willful moral turpitude.
posted by Smedleyman at 8:01 PM on December 7, 2008

The great de-institutionalization could have been a lot more positive if thought had been put into what needed to happen next. There was no such national thought and in effect that led directly to our situation we have today. There are many things the US is great at, but functional, integrated social and medical programs is not one of them. Such things take commitment and money, things that are in short supply, or are hoarded even in times of plenty, much better to buy that jet-ski then be taxed the equivalent for functional support systems for those in our "village" that need aid, that would be *gasp* socialist.
posted by edgeways at 1:48 AM on December 8, 2008

It's a really difficult situation. Sometimes it's lack of community resources and support, but sometimes it's the nature of someone's illness that lands them in prison. Many severe mental illnesses (such as paranoid schizophrenia) make people unwilling or unable to consent to medication treatment. The laws which guide when someone can be forced into treatment against their will are very strict and generally only apply if there is a demonstrable immanent risk of harm to self or others. And in my opinion rightly so, because we don't want a society in which one can be committed or forced to take medication because we have strange thoughts or because our family thinks we need it. However, it makes it very difficult to get the most severely ill people help. I know several people locally who are chronically mentally ill, delusional, paranoid, and psychotic and we just cannot do anything for them. Even if I find a way to get them committed on an emergency warrant, they are released from the hospital in one to two weeks in the same condition as they were admitted. This is partly due to funding but partly due to the courts not finding significant risk of harm. So often you end up with these people cycling in and out of community outpatient services, in and out of the hospital, until finally the local authorities get tired of dealing with them and find an excuse to arrest them: trespassing, property damage, assault on a police officer, etc. And the individual ends up in the only system with the ability to compel them to take medication, the criminal justice system. It's not right, it's cruel, but I've been doing this for three years and I haven't been able to come up with a better system.

Alternatively, you end up with a lot of criminals who fake mental illness to get drugs or because they think it'll help their cases. I get called to the county jail to see people and I have seen some people put on some shows.
posted by threeturtles at 7:23 AM on December 8, 2008

The problem was the failure to provide community-based services . . .

Yes, yes, yes. In New York City, the waits to get into supportive housing are long. It can also take a horribly long time to get non-housing community supports like Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) teams, which I've seen make a world of difference for my clients.

threeturtles is right that community resources don't solve all the problems, but they are chronically underfunded and can help many many people. One model that has been promising (and which you may know about) is Housing First. It can provide a baseline of stability for people who are unmedicated and actively using. From there, some will gradually accept other services, and some won't.
posted by Mavri at 10:47 AM on December 8, 2008

this made me cry.
posted by facetious at 5:50 PM on December 8, 2008

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