“Inside a Mental Hospital Called Jail”
(Feb. 10, 2014) New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof describes how the dearth of mental health services has propelled people with severe mental illnesses into jails and prisons in last weekend’s column, “Inside a Mental Hospital Called Jail,” (Feb. 8).
“The largest mental health center in America is a huge compound here in Chicago, with thousands of people suffering manias, psychoses and other disorders, all surrounded by high fences and barbed wire,” he writes. “Just one thing: It’s a jail.”
Kristof says psychiatric diseases “are the only kind of sickness that we as a society regularly respond to not with sympathy but with handcuffs and incarceration.”
One of the inmates Kristof interviewed at the massive compound, Russel, 46, is diagnosed with severe depression and has spent most of his life in jail for minor offenses. “I just want to be normal,” Russel tells Kristof. “I want to have a job, I’ve never had a job. I want to be able to say hi to a co-worker.”
To care for people like Russel and others with psychiatric disorders who are incarcerated, “taxpayers spend as much as $300 to $400 a day,” Kristof reports.
Other facts on the criminalization of mental illness from the article:
Kristof also quotes from our 2010 study, “More Mentally Ill Persons in Jails and Prisons: A Survey of the States.”
“In the 1800s, Dorothea Dix led a campaign against the imprisonment of the mentally ill, leading to far-reaching reforms and the establishment of mental hospitals,” the columnist says. “Now we as a society have, in effect, returned to the 1800s.”
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