The New Asylums
& Directed by Miri Navasky &
ANNOUNCER: They are schizophrenic—
INMATE: Tried to kill myself about 17 times.
INMATE: This is a plot by the government!
ANNOUNCER: —and psychotic.
THARP, Inmate: Thorazine me out, leave me for lost.
ANNOUNCER: But they are not in mental hospitals,
they are in prison.
BEVEN, M.D., Chief Forensic Psychiatrist: Prisons have
become the new asylums, the new state mental hospital facilities.
ANNOUNCER: Tonight, FRONTLINE takes an unprecedented
journey inside one of America's largest prison systems.
SCHMIDT, Corrections Officer: Once they get out of control, you do
have to use force on them.
ANNOUNCER: And investigates the stark reality of
locking thousands of the mentally ill behind bars.
WILKINSON, Director, Ohio Dept. of Corrections: The attitude has been, "Lock people away. Then they're no longer a problem."
COHEN, Prison Mental Health Consultant: Prison is
simply not the place to provide mental health care.
ANNOUNCER: Why have America's prisons become The
OFFICER: You know, I didn't get your name. My name's Alex. What's yours?
MAN: Jessie Parlet, from Corvala, on the other side, three courses, 450
degrees molecule, 3175 away from Luther.
POLICE OFFICER: OK. Are you giving me directions?
MAN: Yeah, I'm giving you fathoms.
POLICE OFFICER: OK.
EMT: Are you on medications that you're not— that you haven't taken today?
EMT: Yes you did, or no—
MAN: No, I did not take them.
EMT: OK. Are you out of
them? Are you out of them?
MAN: Yes, I am.
POLICE OFFICER: What apartment do you live in?
MAN: Apartment 18.
POLICE OFFICER: Apartment 18.
MAN: Yes, 1-8.
POLICE OFFICER: Very good.
EMT: Who do you live there with?
stay there by myself.
POLICE OFFICER: OK. Do you have a phone at your house?
POLICE OFFICER: OK. If something happened where you needed to get hold of family
in an emergency—
POLICE OFFICER: —who would you call?
would call— nobody, really. I
don't have any family right now.
POLICE OFFICER: Do you have a brother or a sister, a
mother, a father—
MAN: No, I do not.
POLICE OFFICER: —an aunt or an uncle that may be able
to help you today?
POLICE OFFICER: OK.
EMT: Where are you from? What
MAN: I'm from— I don't know, really.
NARRATOR: Scenes like this have become all too
familiar throughout America. As
the nation's psychiatric hospitals shut down, police departments everywhere
were left to handle the growing number of mentally ill on the streets.
POLICE OFFICER: Watch your head. Watch your head.
WOMAN: Her husband's coming up here, saying, "Open the
door." "I can't let you in, you
guys are going to kill me," and all that.' She thought we was going to kill her.
POLICE OFFICER: Why'd she think that?
WOMAN: You know, she's crazy.
POLICE OFFICER: Husband
was telling us she's just off her meds.
3rd POLICE OFFICER: So you guys just going to do a
2nd POLICE OFFICER: Yep. She's set to go. She wants to go.
COHEN, Prison Mental Health Consultant: Once you had hundreds of thousands of people leaving the mental
hospitals, they suddenly, obviously, didn't become mentally healthy. They went to the streets, they became
homeless, and then they eventually began to cycle into the system that cannot
What happened to mental hospitals?]
CLERK: Have you ever considered or attempted
NEW INMATE: No.
INTAKE CLERK: Do you plan to harm yourself now or
while you're incarcerated?
BARRETT, Chief Deputy, Franklin Cty. Jail, Ohio: Well, most of them are non-violent
crimes. They're crimes against
property, the petty theft out of the local 7-Eleven store, or even a criminal
trespass. A person with a mental
issue goes in there to try and get shelter from the elements outside, and they
start acting up. And the property
owner, you know, calls the police. And then as soon as the police step in, they end up bringing them to
jail, and here we go.
NARRATOR: Today, there are nearly 500,000
mentally ill being held in jails and prisons throughout America. That's 10 times the 50,000 that remain
in psychiatric hospitals.
INMATE: I want to see the doctor to get my meds. Get out of my face, you filthy bitch!
HEALTH COUNSELOR: All right. All right.
NARRATOR: This massive incarceration of inmates
with severe mental illness has created enormous problems for prisons across the
WILKINSON, Director, Ohio Dept. of Corrections: There was a failure in society. There was no safety net for all these
persons who were no longer being treated by mental health agencies. And as a result, many of those persons
who would have been in state hospitals are now in state prisons. So in addition to being the director of
the Department of Corrections, I became a de facto director of a major mental
NARRATOR: Ohio corrections officials agreed to
give FRONTLINE unprecedented access to their prison system to see
first-hand the difficulties of coping with the thousands of mentally ill
inmates in their custody.
INMATE: I just feel like I'm suffering,
man. I feel like I'm suffering
every day. I just feel like I'm
suffering. I feel like I'm just—
I'm just in a— in a— in a locked— a real small locked room. And no matter how much I kick on the
door, no matter how much I scream, man, don't nobody hear me, man.
COUNSELOR: What about you, Mr. Simmons?
2nd INMATE: They said I'm a paranoid schizophrenic.
COUNSELOR: Are you on forced medication?
2nd INMATE: Yeah.
COUNSELOR: What medications are you on right now?
NARRATOR: This is group therapy at the maximum
security prison in Lucasville, Ohio.
INMATE: Didn't like a lot of things I seen in
my childhood, a lot of things I seen in my household. Start having hate inside of me.
COUNSELOR: Come here, man. Let me see
your arms. Bring them here. I haven't even got to see them. [examining wounds] What's new, all these?
4th INMATE: All of them.
COUNSELOR: These? How about this? This new?
4th INMATE: Yeah.
COUNSELOR: What drove you to this point, man? Last time I seen you, you was doing good.
4th INMATE: I just— the bottom dropped out, and I just couldn't think of nothing
WILKINSON: Sixteen percent of our prison
population in the state of Ohio — which reflects, basically, a national average
— are persons who've been diagnosed with a mental illness, which means that
they require an awful lot of attention. Many of them require hospitalization. They require, you know, major regimens of psychiatric
medications. And they are a
population that would be at risk not only in the institutions, but when they leave
the confines of our correctional facilities.
NARRATOR: Ohio spent the last decade reforming
their system and is now considered a model for providing mental health care
INMATE: I said, A-ha! Can we get a
witness? Can we hear the Bible
verse up there, Reverend Jack Black?
SCHMIDT, Corrections Officer: We've had inmates bang his head on the wall, scream, shout, yell,
kicking the doors, kicking the bars. That'd go on forever. Throwing human waste on the range, that's something that happens
regular. And somebody new that
would come in here and experience something like that, they'd probably want to
turn right back around and leave, say, "I don't want to come back in this
place." But you get used to it
after a while.
NARRATOR: In Ohio, mentally ill inmates are
separated from the prisons' general population and housed in mental health
units where they can be treated.
NEFF, Corrections Officer: You have to
have a little more patience here. You have to have a lot more patience here, not a little, because it gets
pretty frustrating at times to have to tell somebody to do something three,
four, five, six times before they do it. A lot of them simply don't understand the rules. If they're paranoid about something,
you know, they think somebody's out to get them. It's just a different world in here than it is in the rest
of the prison. This is another
world inside a world.
BENETIS, Mental Health Administrator: You have this population of seriously mentally ill, and simply keeping
them locked up isn't going to do any good for the inmates themselves, or for
the prison. So you bring the
treatment part of it into it, and maybe this is the first time some of these
guys have received treatment. We
have medication here. We have the
psychiatrists here. We have nurses
here 24 hours a day. And some of
the guys here probably have not had that level of care, maybe not ever in their
COUNSELOR: Now, you haven't heard voices?
COUNSELOR: But you do have some special abilities, right?
INMATE: Yeah, mental telepathy.
COUNSELOR: Yeah, which is different than voices.
INMATE: Yeah, it's a lot different. A lot more friendlier.
COUNSELOR: Yeah. And who's the main
person that you have telepathy with?
INMATE: The main one is Ms. Hillary Clinton now, and then the next one is George
Bush. Then I talk to Ms. Oprah
COUNSELOR: How is she friendly to you?
INMATE: She's the power builder of my all well-being.
NIXON-HUGHES, Chief, Bureau of Mental Health, ODRC: We've projected about 25 or 30 percent
of those individuals that have a chronic mental illness will always need
someone making sure that they take their medication, having somebody mediate in
terms of interpersonal relationships that they might have with staff, as well
as have with other inmates, having a population or an environment where people
understand that illness and yet keep in mind what the security needs are.
INMATE: And I say, what the [deleted]! I want out of
my [deleted] mouth to
any one of you bitch [deleted],
and I'll rape all you bitches, [deleted], every one of you? [unintelligible] I'll rape— I
rape all these bitches! And you
talk about raping Julie Riley, you [deleted]
GUARD: You want your light on?
GUARD: You want your light on?
INMATE: Yeah, I want it on, bitch! You
better not [deleted]
with it, you faggot!
COUNSELOR: Is this what you wanted me to have? OK. And this is
what we've been talking about on numerous occasions. You want PC because you don't feel safe.
ANTHONY, Inmate: Yeah.
NARRATOR: Bennie Anthony, a paranoid
schizophrenic, spent much of his life in and out of psychiatric hospitals. In 1987, within weeks of being
released, he had a paranoid episode and set his girlfriend's house on fire.
ANTHONY: Protective— protective custody— I will
COUNSELOR: But you're kind of like in protective custody. Remember? We
discussed this, Mr. Anthony.
ANTHONY: But I want protective custody.
COUNSELOR: You're in your own cell.
ANTHONY: I want protective custody.
COUNSELOR: All right.
ANTHONY: I want protective custody because I'm
COUNSELOR: OK. And what are you afraid
NARRATOR: Anthony has believed for years that
people are trying to kill him.
ANTHONY: They was from Texas. They was coming out of Texas. Some of them have syringes of poison,
electric— electric, battery-powered, volts on them, where they can pierce your
heart or your stomach. And some of
them have wooden— wooden bats, like. And guns.
health team meeting]
CHIEF: OK, Eric, what have you got?
WIDDOWSON, Psychiatric Nurse: Looks like a busy weekend. Starting Friday, inmate Taylor down in
J4 tried to hang himself. They put
him upstairs on a watch.
NARRATOR: Each morning, the mental health staff
meets to discuss inmates who are in crisis.
WIDDOWSON: Inmate Waller was placed on observation
status for possible psychosis. He
has not been med-compliant with his Risperdal all weekend.
CHIEF: OK, anything else on any of these folks?
COUNSELOR: There are at least two others that are on their way here that have put
toothbrushes up under the skin in their arm. The difference is that Taylor had two toothbrushes up his
arm, and they were only able to retrieve one. The other one started to scoot up out of sight, so they—
they're just monitoring that at the present time.
NARRATOR: When inmates need acute care, they're
brought here to the prison infirmary.
INMATE: Brought me up here on constant watch
because they was afraid I was going to do something, and they thought I was
either going to try to kill myself or seriously hurt myself again,
INMATE: I don't know. I think my meds need to be changed.
COUNSELOR: They've already decided to do that. It might take a few more days for that to take effect for
you. So we'll talk to you some
more later on, see how it's progressing for you.
BEVEN, M.D., Chief Forensic Psychiatrist: Hey, Waller,
you seem kind of upset. I'd be
willing to talk to you, and maybe we can resolve all this.
INMATE: Resolve what? I was doing fine working in the kitchen, this and that, and
I go see this— whoever the hell this psych doctor is and—
GARY BEVEN: Have you not been taking your
medication? Is that true?
INMATE: I don't feel I need it.
GARY BEVEN: Providing effective
psychiatric care in a maximum-security prison is extraordinarily
difficult. Many patients
decompensate and become extremely depressed, hopeless, suicidal. Many turn to severe self-mutilation or
acts of self-injury. And many
inmates that also suffer from severe mental illness become delusional and
GUARD: Bankston, can you hear me?
BANKSTON, Inmate: No! No!
NARRATOR: Robert Bankston, a paranoid
schizophrenic, was brought to the infirmary when he became psychotic and
started banging his head against the wall.
GUARD: Roll him over.
GUARD: Inmate Bankston, 40151686. The nurse states that he's having a
psychotic episode. Medication has
been administered. At this time, I
have officers restraining this inmate on the gurney because it's become
necessary to do so. He'll be
placed in cell 18 D-1 infirmary. He'll be placed in restraints.
WIDDOWSON, Psychiatric Nurse: I've dealt with Bankston in crisis a couple of times, and I think the
biggest problem that we had with him was complying with the medicine that we
were trying to provide for him. He
would just take it whenever he felt like it. Sometimes he wouldn't. Then perhaps, when he became sicker is when he decided to not take it
anymore, which seems to be the normal course for a lot of mentally ill
people. They start getting sicker,
and they think it's the medicine that's making them sicker and they quit taking
the medicine. And if they're not
on mandated medicine, then they continue to decompensate further.
NARRATOR: The medical staff decided to keep
Bankston in the crisis unit on constant watch. But he continued to refuse all the officers' orders to "cuff
up," so the prison's special response team was called in.
GUARD: Bankston, I gave you a direct order to step up here and turn around so
handcuffs can be applied.
WIDDOWSON: He was also given emergency medication
to help with possible psychosis. At approximately 7:10, I went down to check inmate's file to ensure that
chemical agent can be used on him. I'll be here to monitor use of force.
BEVEN, M.D., Chief Forensic Psychiatrist: I think the first thing that people should realize is that prison
doesn't exist to provide mental health treatment, the prison exists to provide
security and safety to the community. And so you have to be realistic. If there's an inmate, even though he's sick, refuses to come out of his
cell, refuses to allow officers to inspect the property, refuses to comply with
orders and stands fast to that, eventually, that inmate is going to do what
they're told, whether they want to or not.
GUARD: I'm giving you another direct order to step up here, Bankston. You guys ready?
BANKSTON: [screams] Please, sir! Please, sir! Please, please, please, please! [screams] Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!
NARRATOR: Soon after this crisis, Bankston was
placed on mandated meds and forced to take his medication until his condition
BANKSTON: I snatched a purse back in 1989. If I'd have knew I was going to have to
go through all this, boy, I wouldn't have— believe me, I wouldn't have never
snatched no purse. But yeah, this
is classified as a robbery.
NARRATOR: Because of his long history of psychotic
and aggressive behavior, Robert Bankston has served much of his time at the
maximum security prison.
GARY BEVEN: Many severely mentally ill inmates have
come into prison either on minor violations of the law or parole
violations. And they were previously
at a minimum or a medium security prison, and because those prisons have their
own strict rules and guidelines and expectations of compliance with security
protocols, those inmates with serious mental illness just can't follow the
rules appropriately. They're
frightened. They're scared. They're paranoid. They're anxious. They're pacing. They're restless. They don't take their medications. And then they filter down to a prison
like this, which is kind of like the basement for the severely mentally ill in
NARRATOR: Concerned that too many mentally ill
inmates were ending up at its maximum security prison, Ohio began to take
mental illness into account in their disciplinary process.
WILKINSON: The biggest change that we started to
pay attention to, when we looked at certain kinds of behaviors prisoners were
demonstrating, that may have been psychiatric but that may not have been, we
wanted to understand the theory — and I'm not trying to be crass here — the
difference between mad and bad. You know, we wanted to know if behavior that resembled deviant behavior
was related to just criminal kinds of activities or if it was induced by some
GUARD: You're in trouble. You
might have to wait a few minutes, all right?
NARRATOR: Michael Shreves, in prison for
aggravated robbery, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He was recently charged with spitting
on an officer. Before his
disciplinary hearing, Shreves is meeting with a mental health counselor. If mental illness is found to play a
significant role in his misconduct, the charges can be dropped.
COUNSELOR: So the big issue is about— the officer is accusing you of spitting on
SHREVES: See, what it was, was I'm watching
myself, he grabs the back of my jumpsuit, throws me on the ground. I was trying to— get off me. I didn't do nothing.
COUNSELOR: While you disagree with what he said, you do remember the incident,
SHREVES: Yeah, but not spitting on him.
COUNSELOR: Right. But you do remember
SHREVES: Yeah, because he said to me, "Do you
spit?" I said, "I don't spit."
KAHN, Inmate: Yeah?
OFFICER: Come on in here.
KAHN: You know, they started the lunch already.
OFFICER: Shut the door and have a seat.
NARRATOR: Michael Kahn, in prison for rape, began
to yell when he couldn't reach his parents on the telephone. He threw his glasses on the ground and
emptied his shampoo bottle all over his cell.
OFFICER: Case number is 20040368. State your name and number for record.
KAHN: Michael David Kahn, 234609.
OFFICER: Kahn, how do you plead to a rule 18?
OFFICER: Kahn, at this time, the committee's going to allow you to make a
KAHN: Dr. Martin— Dr. Martin was going to
keep me on level 2 for one year or so and get special permission from Steve
Dillon to have my TV, as well as my fan trimmers in my cell, while being
on level 2, until I showed some improvement. What happened, I ignored the fact, but a Mr— or not
realizing the fact—
OFFICER: Kahn, what does that have to do with this conduct report? What I want to know is what took place
during the time of this conduct report. I don't want to know what happened when you was talking to Dr. Martin.
NARRATOR: Michael Kahn was found guilty of
creating a disturbance and destroying state property. Although he could have been sent to segregation, his only
punishment was to have his phone privileges revoked. And Michael Shreves was also found guilty. It was his 18th rule violation this
year, and he was sent to segregation.
KAHN: And I see the parole board in March of
COHEN, Prison Mental Health Consultant: If
an inmate spits or refuses to hand back his food tray or curses an officer or
doesn't cuff up, when the officer says, "Put your hands out, cuff up"— if that
person was in a hospital setting, that would be considered acting out or
symptomatic of the illness. In a
prison system, that's considered, "I'm telling you to cuff up or I'm going to
write you up." They write them
up. They go before a tribunal, a
disciplinary tribunal. They're
found guilty, and they're sent to segregation. Probably the worst thing that could happen to them and to
the system, but that's what happens. That's what happens.
NEFF, Corrections Officer: It gets to the
point where there's no— there's nothing else can be done. You're going to have to lock them up in
segregation. They have to be
locked up and removed from the area, or it's going to cause— just going to
escalate. It's going to cause a
bigger problem on the block. And
then you kind of lose control of everything in the block.
SCHMIDT, Corrections Officer: A
lot of the mentally ill inmates that are in here, you got to use more— I mean,
you do have to use force on them. Just— it just seems that way. To me it does, anyway, because once they get out, and then they get out
and once they reach that level, they're out of control, you know, then they
need to— they need to be secured.
More from the officers' perspective]
GUARD: Come on Donny.
GUARD: Donny, this is your last chance.
HALL, Inmate: Don't want to go with them!
HALL: To go with him! I ain't going to fight. I'll walk, OK?
NARRATOR: Since entering prison in 1981, Donny
Hall, convicted of rape, has had a terrible record of misconduct that has sent
him to segregation nearly a hundred times. He has cut himself, spit on officers, thrown urine and feces
and flooded his cell.
the staff at Lucasville can no longer handle his behavior, their final option
is to send him to the prison psychiatric hospital. Oakwood Correctional Facility was built on the grounds of
one of Ohio's abandoned state asylums. Here inmates are treated more like patients than prisoners. This is the 18th time Donny Hall has been
sent to Oakwood.
HALL: These people down here know how to help
me, know how to give me the right medication. I don't have to be locked down all day, can go to the gym,
be in the day room all day, go down to the dining room to eat. Got more freedom. I feel a whole lot calmer, more
better. Don't feel upset no
more. And I'm doing a whole lot
better, a whole lot better.
NIXON-HUGHES, Chief, Bureau of Mental Health, ODRC: Every aspect of your life, from eating
your meal to recreation to treatment, is all centered around attempting to
stabilize the mental illness. It's
a 24-hour treatment environment, like any other hospital in the community.
CLARK, Inmate: Uno!
HALL: Shuffle up, Clark. Shuffle up.
CLARK: These all mine?
HALL: Yeah. Shuffle up, like this.
NARRATOR: Sigmon Clark, convicted of robbery, has
been in and out of prison for nearly 20 years and has been hospitalized at
Oakwood many times.
HALL: Cut your cards. Cut.
NARRATOR: He became so delusional that he was
convinced officers were trying to kill him. And to rid himself of the poison, he started drinking water
from his cell toilet.
CLARK: The colors go down the same way?
HALL: Yeah, yeah. The same colors, the same way.
CLARK: I went to, like 7, 8 institutions, in
some of them 12 years, to a point behavior will go up and down. They will change my security
level. And it will go up and down,
and I would do better. Sometime I
had to go to a higher security, if I done worse. Sometime I had to go to a lower security, if I done better. But I still had this disease, mental
illness, regardless of what is happening to me.
NARRATOR: Although Clark's behavior has improved
significantly while at Oakwood, he cannot stay indefinitely.
COHEN, Prison Mental Health Consultant: It's just not intended to be anything other than a turn-around hospital,
get you back to your environment. And it has a mission, short-term acute care—
stabilize. We're not saying you're
better, we're saying you're stabilized, and you go back.
CLARK: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.
PHYSICIAN: We were discussing you before you came
in, Mr. Clark, and we think you've done wonderful in here. So we are thinking of sending you back
to Lucasville. What is your idea?
CLARK: The question is, is that in my best
behalf at this time?
PHYSICIAN: We think so, yes.
PHYSICIAN: You have adjusted beautifully well to
the level of medication. There's
been absolutely no side effects whatsoever. Quite frankly, you've been an exemplary patient. People don't go to the hospital to stay
forever, they stay as long as they need to be there. Clinically, we feel that you have improved to the point that
you can now start functioning in a manner that's OK for you back in your
system. Your delusions are way
down. You're not
hallucinating. You go to group. You have goal-directed
conversations. In other words,
you're doing real well.
CLARK: In this setting. Do I do well in another setting?
PHYSICIAN: And I see no reason why you can't.
NURSE: A lot of it's up to you.
PHYSICIAN: Don't you want parole with better
CLARK: I want a better day every 24 hours.
NARRATOR: After 90 days at Oakwood, Sigmon Clark
was sent back to the maximum security prison in Lucasville.
CLARK: Good afternoon, ladies and
gentlemen. Neff, you done lost
weight. You on days now?
NEFF, Corrections Officer: Yep, back on days.
NARRATOR: Each time he is returned to the
prison's mental health unit, Clark's condition has deteriorated and he's ended
up back in the prison infirmary.
CLARK: It was gloomy because I know I'm coming
down the road of isolation now. You're just stuck in a cell with all kind of thoughts going through your
need a pillow and some toilet paper.
NEFF: I'll get you. One second.
CLARK: I always try to stick it out by one—
taking it one day at a time, doing the best each day and hoping that the next
day is brighter.
NEFF: I think, basically, this is home to
him. It gets to the point where
the treatment that everyone receives in prison is pretty much all that's left. It's pretty ironic that they have to be
locked in prison, probably, to get better mental health treatment than they
could get if they were free.
NARRATOR: At Lucasville, the mental health staff
struggled for nearly four years to manage and treat Jakuba Lewis's
GARY BEVEN: If you had seen Jakuba Lewis several
years ago, when he was incessantly hallucinating and really struggling, one
would think, "There's really no hope for this person." But thankfully, even though we're here,
we've been able to treat him very effectively, and his behavior stabilized to
the point where he was able to be conduct-report-free, I believe, for over a
year, which is really remarkable in a real strict environment where you're
expected to follow the rules essentially irrespective of what your limitations
NARRATOR: Jakuba Lewis was transferred out of the
maximum security prison to a lower security prison in Orient, Ohio.
WILKINSON, Director, Ohio Dept. of Corrections: Unfortunately, I do believe that some
of the mental health treatment that we provide in prisons is better than what one
might get in the community. I've
actually had a judge mention to me before, that, you know, "We hate to do this,
but we know the person will get treated if we send this person to prison." When you know that the courts are more
apt to send a person to prison because they're going to get treated, then
there's something disconcerting about that.
Read Wilkinson's extended interview]
LEWIS, Inmate: How're you doing? I'm doing fine.
NARRATOR: Lewis is meeting with his new mental health
team to discuss his ongoing treatment.
COUNSELOR: Does your mental illness have something to do with your crime?
COUNSELOR: Can you share how?
LEWIS: Because when I was on the street, right
before I caught my case, I was real, like— you ever heard how somebody say a
dark cloud come over their head? Strange things was happening, but I really didn't know what it was. People was talking to me in
telekinesis. Somebody was saying
something to me, but they're really not. But back then, I couldn't tell the truth because I didn't
know what schizophrenia was. I
didn't even know I had a— I didn't know nothing about it. I thought it was real.
COUNSELOR: Well, do you feel comfortable telling me what the crime was?
LEWIS: Oh, I was down for— I had— I had
murdered— I had killed two people.
COUNSELOR: And at that point in time, you thought that they were the enemy or—
LEWIS: Yes, I thought they were trying to kill
me because of the way the whole day was going. Last four years, I've been learning more about it, so I know
how to handle them a little better. But I'm still not to the point where I can control it. But I haven't had a psychotic episode
in a long time.
NARRATOR: While Jakuba Lewis believes the treatment
he received in prison has made him better, other inmates believe that prison
has made them worse.
McEACHRON, Inmate: Being locked up in prison, it does
affect your mental well-being. It's just like these environmental factors, which must be— which— I— I
continually say must be considered before one is— is given some diagnosis, some
misdiagnosis or— or some drug, you know what I'm saying, that's supposed to be
a cure-all. I'm saying, let's find
out what's really going on first. And being in prison, that's one problem.
NARRATOR: Convicted initially for burglary, Carl
McEachron returned to prison in 1988 when he violated his parole by stealing a
bicycle. For nearly a decade,
McEachron's disciplinary problems led him to spiral down through the Ohio
prison system from medium security to maximum security and eventually to the
GARY BEVEN: He was the type of individual who was
very difficult to work with because, in the past, he had been very aggressive
towards staff, including, I believe, by spitting on staff members and throwing
body waste. And so there wasn't a
lot of empathy for him. There
wasn't a lot of people going to bat for him, and people weren't saying, "We
really need to help this person."
tendency would be, for somebody like that, is just, "Let's lock him away." You know, "If this person's going to
behave like that, let's just not have anything to do with him." Before we had the system in place that
we do now, that type of individual would still be in segregation, and they
would probably never get out of segregation.
More on segregation]
McEACHRON: Being— being involved in a solitary
situation, being placed in a solitary situation, is— is like being placed in a
prison's prison. And that's—
that's worse than simply being taken from society and placed in prison.
COHEN: If you're mentally ill when you go into
segregation, you're going to become worse, invariably. If you're not mentally ill, the risk of
becoming mentally ill is very high from isolation. Some people dispute that, but in my experience, the people
who are so unsocialized and so psychologically fragile to begin with are
deprived of any kind of social support, any kind of psychological stimulus, and
they just— they just fall apart.
NARRATOR: McEachron spent years in solitary
confinement, and eventually, his psychological problems became obvious. He didn't speak for nearly a year. He began crawling down the cellblock on
his hands and knees. He told
officers that there were cameras in his eyes.
McEACHRON: It seemed like a hopeless situation
because I was just— I was just going down, falling into this— this abyss or—
how would you pronounce it?
McEACHRON: Abyss? OK. And it's
like you're— you're— that's it. It's, like, "Oh, is anybody there," you know what I'm saying? "Help," you know what I'm saying? And it's— it's— it's really hopeless.
NARRATOR: Carl McEachron has been in prison for
over 16 years. Because of his
disciplinary problems, he never became eligible for parole and has been held 13
years beyond the sentencing guidelines for his crime.
McEACHRON: I see the parole board next month. And it's— there is some hope there,
that I hope they actually do release me. I hope this is— I hope they do, I really do, because this is my last
year of really feeling— really having this hope. I'm not going to go off or anything like that, but I just
hope they— they do really consider what's going on.
INMATE: And they killed my goddamn mother! All of them, every [deleted] goddamn [deleted] one of these bitches murdered my [deleted] goddamn mother! [unintelligible] And Julie
Riley is my goddamn wife!
INMATE: No, I'm not playing Jesus anymore. I showed you Jesus. I wasn't bothering the man about
that. I got the two pillows in my
NARRATOR: For mentally ill inmates, obtaining
parole is almost always difficult.
ANTHONY: I got a parole board date next
month. I'm hoping they'll let me
go. I'd just tell them that I've
been incarcerated for 16 years and have all remorse for things I've done. And I know I'm mental, but I'm not
incompetent. And I know that— I
know that I could really function on the outside. And I wish and hope that they would give me a parole, you
NARRATOR: While most inmates hope to be released,
Jerry Tharp, who was granted parole after a 10-year sentence for robbery,
doesn't want to leave prison.
THARP, Inmate: You know, I'm trying to— you know, my
release is coming quicker, and I'm trying to stop that because it'll help us
COUNSELOR: Well, I know you said you had some concerns in treatment team.
THARP: Yeah, and I've said that about every
treatment team that I've went to, and still nothing's become of it.
COUNSELOR: Do you have other plans when you get out, then?
THARP: Yeah, I have other plans. And you know, the sane mind that I'm in
now and the sanity that I still have says that's not, you know, right to go
through with those plans. And innocent
people will be hurt and murdered, and you know, also people will be hurt and
murdered. So go ahead and stop the
parole, you know, work with the system of things, which I've learned, and you
know, well understood insightfully, so now—
been locked up, you know, for so long that, you know, I have a fear of going
directly to society because, you know, in here in prison, life's a lot simpler
and everything is on a tight schedule. And I've learned that out in society, the— you know, the world— well,
society, it's— it's a lot bigger and more complicated, a little bit more
scarier. And I'm trying to stop my
release from, you know, prison to go to society.
INTERVIEWER: So what would you do with you?
THARP: Put me off in some government state
hospital and take a— you know, a lobotomy, I think is what they call it. And I don't know. I think, in some states, it's still
legal here. You know, Thorazine me
out. And what I mean by that is,
overmedicate me with Thorazine and just leave me in a room to sleep my life
away. Just, you know, leave me—
leave me for lost.
NARRATOR: Although he wants to live out his life
in a psychiatric institution, there are so few mental hospitals left that
long-term commitment has become almost impossible. Jerry Tharp was released to a half-way house.
WILKINSON: I think a lot of the attitude has been
over the years, "Out of sight, out of mind. You lock people away, then they're no longer a problem. Well, guess what? Ninety-eight percent of everybody who
goes to the prison gets out. And
it behooves us all to pay close attention to it when we can and not to sweep it
under the rug.
NARRATOR: It's been over a year since Robert
Bankston had to be restrained in the prison infirmary. In and out of prison for 16 years on
his purse-snatching conviction, Bankston recently became eligible for parole.
BANKSTON: That's a long time, I mean, for
snatching a purse. And I've been
down here paying ever since. I
don't know. I hope they pay
me. I hope they give me a parole,
is all I will say, you know?
HEARING OFFICER: Mr. Bankston?
ROBERT BANKSTON: Yes?
HEARING OFFICER: We're ready to see you.
HEARING OFFICER: Hello, Mr. Bankston.
ROBERT BANKSTON: Hi.
HEARING OFFICER: Hi.
ROBERT BANKSTON: Hi.
HEARING OFFICER: You've come a long way. Your behavior has improved
significantly, hasn't it.
ROBERT BANKSTON: Yes'm.
HEARING OFFICER: You haven't had a conduct violation
ROBERT BANKSTON: It's been a while. Since, I think, 2003.
HEARING OFFICER: Since 2003.
HEARING OFFICER: I do notice that you tend to get in
more trouble when you're not doing the meds right, or what?
ROBERT BANKSTON: Yes. I tend— I tend to get paranoid. Usually, that's what— that's when some— something take
place. They wind up sending me to
D-1 at Lucasville for refusal.
HEARING OFFICER: Is that what's happened on the rest of
ROBERT BANKSTON: Yes.
HEARING OFFICER: Is that what happens out on the street,
ROBERT BANKSTON: Yes, pretty much. My— my P.O., when I was out last time,
he made sure I stayed on the medication.
HEARING OFFICER: Do you have contact with your
family? Do you have a rapport
still with your family?
ROBERT BANKSTON: Well, I talked to my aunt a week
ago. That was— that was about the
last person I talked to. My
grandmother died since I've been locked up.
HEARING OFFICER: OK.
ROBERT BANKSTON: Not really. No, not really.
HEARING OFFICER: In terms of a place to reside, do you
have a place?
ROBERT BANKSTON: With my mother. That's about it.
HEARING OFFICER: Well, you haven't talked to her, so you
wouldn't know if you could reside there or not, right?
ROBERT BANKSTON: Right.
NARRATOR: Robert Bankston was granted parole on
the condition that he continue his mental health treatment and meet regularly
with his parole officer.
BANKSTON: They gave me the parole, man.
TOWNSEND, Inmate: That's got to be the greatest feeling
in the world.
ROBERT BANKSTON: Yeah, it's cool. Yeah, it is.
MICHAEL TOWNSEND: All you got to do is get out there and
ROBERT BANKSTON: Yeah. Hey, I didn't even know if I was going to get the parole or
MICHAEL TOWNSEND: Come on, man.
HEARING OFFICER: Michael Townsend?
TOWNSEND: Yeah. Put in my time, man.
NARRATOR: This is Robert Bankston's fourth
parole. Each time he's been
released in the past, he stopped taking his medication and ended up homeless,
violated his parole and was sent back to prison.
inmate, Keith Williams, is about to leave the maximum security prison. He served his full two-year sentence
for burglary and is being released to St. Paul's, a homeless shelter in Toledo.
INTERVIEWER: Is your family there?
WILLIAMS, Inmate: No, I'm not close with my family
anymore, been away too long. I
just— you know, St. Paul's, and then after that, somewhere else with my people.
INTERVIEWER: Who are your people?
WILLIAMS: Mommies, angels and cats.
INTERVIEWER: And where are they living?
WILLIAMS: They live all over the world, if I'm
not mistaken. They live all over
the world, all over the world.
NIXON-HUGHES, Chief, Bureau of Mental Health, ODRC: We release people with two weeks' worth
of medication, yet it appears that it's taking three months for people to
actually get an appointment in the community to continue their services. We have a fairly solid correctional
mental health services that we have supported people with. And when they go out, they're going to
have to be assertive, if not aggressive, to try to get the services that they
need. And if they don't have the
energy and/or the insight to do that, they're going to, what we say, fall
through the cracks and end up back in some kind of criminal activity that ends
up with them going back to jail and possibly coming back to prison.
OFFICER: We give you $75 gate money to go home on. So it's going to be a total of $81.16. There's 16 cents, and there's $81. OK? And good luck to you.
COUNSELOR: Mr. Williams— this is a two-week supply, so you'll need to get in to see
the doctor before these run out to get a new prescription. The Risperdal is the green tablet and
the Cogentin is the white tablet. If you miss a dose, then take it again at the next opportunity, but
don't double up on the doses.
SCHMIDT, Corrections Officer: From working here, the 15 years I've been here, I've learned that a lot
of the mentally ill inmates that are in here, you can't just lock them up and
tell them to do 10, 20 years, and then soon as that time's up, send him back
out on the street. It's not going
to work. It's— it's not— definitely
not going to work.
NARRATOR: Today, there are over two million
people in U.S. jails and prisons, and nearly 500,000 of them are mentally
ill. Although Ohio's prison mental
health care system is considered one of the best, in much of the country, vast
numbers of mentally ill inmates continue to receive little or no treatment.
WILKINSON: I started in this work in 1973. We had 7,000 prisoners. Today we have over 44,000. And nationally, those numbers parallel
what we experienced here in Ohio. But also in 1973, the number of persons in mental health and retardation
facilities was a lot greater than what existed in state and federal
COHEN: Prison is simply not the place of first
choice in which to provide mental health care. And with a certain irony, I would say we shouldn't devote
ourselves to raising— continually raising the level of mental health care in
prisons because the better you make an institution that shouldn't be used for
the purpose you're improving, the more you're ensuring its use.
COUNSELOR: Are you in the community service project? See, if you can get in the community service project, he can
hook you up with a lot more stuff.
WILKINSON: We are the gatekeepers of a lot of
persons who are mentally ill, and that's not something we relish. We don't like that idea. We don't like the idea that we're being
charged with fixing a lot of the woes of our communities. But I don't think that we've developed
the system of alternatives that need to be in place in order to prevent the kind
of problems that we're dealing with now in prisons and jails across this
NARRATOR: Less than a month after being released
from prison, Keith Williams stopped taking his medication and assaulted a
counselor at the homeless shelter. He has been back to jail twice.
Tharp was out of prison for only two months when he robbed a pharmacy. Arrested hours later, Tharp told police
he committed the crime because he wanted to go back to prison.
McEachron, in prison for 16 years, was finally paroled. But before he could be freed, McEachron,
who had come to the u.s. from Jamaica as a child, was detained by U.S.
Immigration and deported.
Robert Bankston was paroled, he stopped taking his medication and was asked to
leave his homeless shelter. He
hasn't reported to his parole officer in weeks, and if he fails to show up
within the month, a warrant will be issued for his arrest.
Bennie Anthony, who was in prison for 11 years, was also paroled. He is now enrolled in a special program
for mentally ill inmates and is reportedly doing well.
PRODUCED & DIRECTED BY
Navasky & Karen O'Connor
Department of Rehabilitation and Correction
Department of Rehabilitation and Correction
Ohio Correctional Facility
FRONTLINE Co-Production with Mead Street Films
is a production of WGBH Boston, which is solely responsible for its content.
ANNOUNCER: There's more on this story at FRONTLINE's Web site, including
answer to frequently asked questions about the mentally ill in prison and about
the making of this film, a state-by-state map, where you can learn about the
situation in your state for imprisoned mentally ill people, the organizations
that are helping them reenter society and the legislation pending in states and
in Congress, plus interviews with experts and additional reports, and the
chance to watch this program again on line. Then join the discussion at pbs.org.
time on FRONTLINE/World: In Lebanon, a former prime minister's assassination
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Kate Seelye looks at the chance for democracy in a country with so many
different factions. And in
Liberia, a peacekeeper with a difficult mission to disarm tens of thousands of
— Are you going to hand in your weapons?
— No! No!
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