PBS have put an award winning documentary about the number of mentally ill people in America’s prisons online.
The programme recently won the Grand Prize in the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards and asks difficult questions about why so many people with severe mental illness are inmates in the US prison system.
Fewer than 55,000 Americans currently receive treatment in psychiatric hospitals. Meanwhile, almost 10 times that number — nearly 500,000 — mentally ill men and women are serving time in U.S. jails and prisons. As sheriffs and prison wardens become the unexpected and often ill-equipped caretakers of this burgeoning population, they raise a troubling new concern: Have America’s jails and prisons become its new asylums?
The programme makes an interesting contrast to Diary Written in the Provincial Lunatic Asylum written in 1885 by Mary Huestis Pengilly, and now available online as a Project Gutenberg EBook.
Pengilly describes the experience of being treated like a prisoner in the asylum, which used handcuffs and restraints for the ‘patients’ resident there.
While a century ago, asylums were virtually prisons, it seems increasingly, that prisons are now becoming asylums.