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join the discussion...What are your thoughts after viewing The New Asylums? How can America address the growing issue of mentally ill people serving time in prisons and jails?

Dear FRONTLINE,

... I have enjoyed your programs very much,tonights show was pretty much a negitive view of the prison mental health system.I am a correction officer at a facility with a Mental health unit in upstate New York.I work with the civillan staff [Doc& nurses]everyday and wittness the job they do.They do a job that the average joe or medical professional would not want to do,these convicts,oh excuse me!patients are a group of people that have committed a crime[felony]I think the program got off course.They can be very difficult individuals at times,unless of course they get there way.Most of these inmates I have come in contact with, the general public would not want them as there next door neighbor.In short,most if not all of these incarcerated individuals are being kept in the right place,and oh ya one other thing,remember the VICTIMS!

Donald Carriero
Buffalo, New York

Dear FRONTLINE,

Ive been in The Ohio system but am not mentally ill. Using Ohio as some kind of example is a fraud. You are treated like a turd in there whether your sane doing 6 mos like me,,, or your mentally sick (and need help)doing 10 years. I saw many many men in there left to fend for themselves that were very sick. Shame on Frontline for filming this fraud and they know it.

Mike G
Columbus, Ohio

Dear FRONTLINE,

The show was good. However it did not emphasize the need for community facilities, rehab centers and residential opportunities that really help to keep people out of the jail again. decent treatment in the prison is only the first step. In the state of Illinois, there is interdepartmental warfare between the dept. of corrections and the dept of mental health over who should pay for the out patient programs that keep people out of prisons. as a result, neither department is doing anything and mentally ill prisoners are recycling at a furious clip. solutions are out there. Thresholds, a mental health rehab facility in the community, has a model program that works, but is so poorly funded by the Governor and the departments mentioned that keeps the problem from being solved

jerry dincin
highland park, il

Dear FRONTLINE,

As a retired lawyer and judge, I found that the questions that arose from your documentary more disturbing than the facts..Justice must be served whether you are mentally ill or not..the mental illness preceded the criminal acts..where was the needed care then? the victims have rights that society and any judge must take into consideration...medications don't often work..therapy in jail just is not enough or inducive for treatment..I am under treatment myself for mental illnesses, I know of what I speak..our society discriminates even in the best of situations....

Moncena Rowley
Minneapolis, MN

Dear FRONTLINE,

An important documentary that clearly shows cause and effects. The solutions are stated within the program. The only criticism I have is that the filmmakers focussed on blacks, when the stats show there's a higher percentage of white patients in prisons. A CBS Sunday morning show did the same thing awhile ago on a show about welfare. They said stats show the majority on welfare were white women in their 20s and 30s, but in the story they focussed on three black women, including one elderly. The downside I see is that white taxpayers may be voting to decrease social service funding because they erroneously believe the problems aren't "theirs." It's a perverse, dangerous kind of comfort zone for them to think these issues affect mostly one race and not all.

Terry Keim

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

Thank you for these important comments.The racial breakdown of inmates in Ohio state prisons at the present time is approximately 48% African-American, 51% Caucasian and 1% Hispanic/Other. As in the rest of the country, the percentage of African-Americans in the prison system is overrepresented . In the mental health units where we did all of our filming, and especially at the higher security prisons, the percentages of African-American inmates tends to be higher than others races, though the population of inmates is changing all the time (i.e. inmates are moved to different security levels, get paroled, etc.). It just so happened during the time frame in which we filmed (a fairly concentrated month), the racial breakdown at the main mental health unit in the maximum-security prison was 70% African-American.- Miri Navasky & Karen O'Connor

Dear FRONTLINE,

Your program was excellent.

The best way to address the problem is to add eduction about mental illnesses to our public knowledge. Student education, grades K-12, age-appropriately, should include basic facts about mental illness.

People need to grow up knowing that brains get sick - and then recovery,with mendical help - like any other part of the body. When young children learn that Abe Lincoln and Mark Twain are among the MANY great Americans who had mental illnesses, the stigma can die. Stereotypes and myths will be replaced by accurate information and available medical treatment.

When the 20% of the population who have mental health problems know to seek help early, they will not end up in our jails. A recent National Institute of Mental Health report found 50% of those who are going to onset with mental illness do so by age 14. This means our children need to recognize their symptoms and not be afraid to seek proper psychiatric help. Doing so will prevent self-medication with ilegal drugs and will keep thousands of people with common mental illnesses out of our jails.

See www.angelavickers.org for the article, "Justice demands training lawyers & judges about mental illnesses."

Thanks again, and keep up the good work.

Angela Vickers, JD
Jacksonville, FL

Dear FRONTLINE,

I really enjoyed your program on new asylums, as a convicted mentally ill felon who is now a full time student working towards my social work degree. The genreal public and government need to realize that this is a big problem in the communities all across the united states. I am lucky to now be able to get free treatment although I had to move to a big city that has the resourses. but now our governer is making major cuts in our medicaid and our mental health and drug treatment centers. It looks as if this problem is only going to get worse before it gets better.

shauna looney
kansas city, missouri

Dear FRONTLINE,

I happened on "The New Asylums" last night and unfortunately missed the first 15 minutes. I felt some satisfaction that Ohio is doing a fairly good job in reaching inmates with mental health problems. But, I have to admit that I was shocked and saddened by the way this country treats these men and women when they are paroled and allowed their "freedom". Could not some of the billions that are being wasted by this nation right now be redirected to fund halfway houses and the provision of treatment drugs to these people? I am working on a thesis concerning Kirkbride type state hospitals in the US (1840-1880 or so)and could only wish that some of these institutions were still available with the caveat that they would be run as envisioned under the moral treatment approach, with drug therapy and community outreach and not as the warehouses they degenerated into. Those hospitals/asylums do not deserve the dark image that was forced on them in the 20th century.

Tom Balduf
Bowling Green, Ohio

Dear FRONTLINE,

As always, Frontline has done a superb job of highlighting a very disturbing part of our nation. As a faculty member of a school of social work we having been training more and more social workers to provide mental health services within the criminal justice system. This is a sad commentary on our national priorities. It is more costly and certainly more oppressive to provide services for the mentally ill in a corrections institution than in the community. When we deinstitutionalized the mentally ill we were promised community based services, which have never been adequately funded.

One of the issues that you didn't address was the stigmatization of the mentally ill and you inadvertently reinforced this with your use of language. At times in the program you called a man in the program "a schizophrenic". I would like to point out that schizophrenia is an illness. He is an man with an illness and deserves to been seen as such, instead of just an illness. This type of labeling serves to dehumanize the mentally ill.

thank you again for highlighting a very troubling issue in a very sensitive and balanced fashion

Sarah Bradley

Dear FRONTLINE,

I was diagnosed schizophrenic 30 odd years ago. 10 years were spent in and out of Hospitals and programs. I married the first woman I got serious with.I've been taking my Medicine every day. It keeps me sharp and to the point if I choose to be. I've worked at full time jobs and gone to school to learn a skill. I want to thank Mental Health for helping me be a productive individual. Also My Wife for standing by me all these years. We have many blessings.

Richard Hill

Dear FRONTLINE,

... The problem with the situation today is that no one is there to take care of mentally disabled people these days. If those disabled are not close with their family, the government will only do something about it until those disabled people break the law. I don't know if it's just me, but that seems very wrong and perverse. Our government should supply more places where the mentally disabled who don't have family close to them and need care can go. Prisons are no place for them to go. Mentally disabled need proper care with people who are patient and are taught to care for them. This would also help when the question of how much longer the patient should be held in custody. They would be evaluated on their mental process, not their behavioral one, which is what needs to be done in the case of mental patients.

Overall, thank you Frontline for showing yet another provacative film that helps us realize the issues so we can do something about it. Without this program, I don't know what I would do with my Tuesday nights.

Margaret Formoe
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Dear FRONTLINE,

I am not sure if the job that Ohio is doing in its correctional facilities is something to be all that excited about. After all, it is a CORRECTIONAL facility where people who commit crimes are sent to be rehabilitated. Mental illness is just that, an illness, and I think the fact that Ohio's actions to treat the illnesses of its inmates are being seen as exceptional goes to illustrate the fact that our society has real problem in how it views (or doesn't view) mental illness.

After all, we do not televise documentary footage of a prison that ministers to the more somatic ills because that is expected as a basic human right. I would be really impressed if their were real effective efforts to prevent the recidivism of the sick by providing palpable assistance and transition for them into the real world.

How does one expect the patients (or inmates) to comply when they have no money, no home, no insurance, no resources, no family, and most of the time, no social or occupational skills and a very limited ability to plan and execute goal-directed behaviors. It is almost as if policy is created without consulting a mental health proffesional as to what the challenges are which these inmates must deal with to simply get up in the morning and comb their hair. Many of them can be rehabilitated and coached into a functioning life but the reality is that many can not. I feel pretty passionately that the way we disregard the needs of our mentally ill is a human rights violation akin to allowing people to starve in front of our eyes or bleed to death on the doorstep while we turn our heads and pretend not to see.

Amanda Marshall
Boerne, Tx

Dear FRONTLINE,

After watching your documentary - and - having seen first hand the problem - I feel the need to express to the public the plan that I have in mind for helping the people that I can help. I am starting a nonprofit for the souls that can benefit from a halfway environment. Halfway, from where - to where? From where ever they need to leave their past and to where ever they hope to go. Our failure as a country to provide for our less fortunate is a capitalistic societal problem. While the rich get richer the poor end up in prison. I do not believe that is what God intended when he said all men are created equal.

jeffrey strelioff
red bluff, sc

Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank you. I appreciated the program's mixture of statistical information with personal accounts. I have worked in the counseling profession as an LPC, but had lost touch with what was happening in our state DOC, except for some indirect and incomplete info. Your program prompted me to access the map and then state links which showed some exciting efforts between Mental Health professionals, law enforcement,state agencies, and community advocates.

Kitty Velasco
Purcell, OK

Dear FRONTLINE,

I thought that the most interesting part of the documentary was the fact that when these inmates were not having episodes one couldnt tell that they were suffering from any illnesses. Many believe that if people have illnesses they are "crazy" all the time. This documentary did a really good job of disproving that.

Allison Field
Los Angeles, California

Dear FRONTLINE,

I simply want to say thank you to Frontline and every person that appeared in this broadcast. As someone who has worked in this field and as someone who has ill family members it was truly wonderful to see the effort that went into this with respect to research and the thoroughness of the interviews.

Reginald Wilkinson was outstanding his commentary invaluable. The guards the patients all points of view were well represented. Although I was pleased to see that this information was being disseminated to the public the information is heart breaking.

Kudos to Ohio for doing such a great job but it shows you how far we have to go with understanding and providing for our mentally ill both inside and outside of the prison system. Thanks again to all for such an amazing program.

Melissa Dawson
New York, NY

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posted may 10, 2006

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