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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 was fascinated at your documentary on "The New Asylums".

I spent 2 years in a county prison and am a mental health patient. ...

Eventually I started receiving my medication but in the two plus years I was in there not once was I seen by a psychiatric doctor.

Our prison systems definitely need some help on the lower levels not only the state prisons.

Carol Bolen

Dear FRONTLINE,

Your documentary was compelling to say the least. It is heartbreaking to see someone suffer and though these men have committed crimes I can still empathize wtih their demons and their feelings of "craziness." I was in a female institution thankfully only for several days and the whole time I was there I was closely monitored and treated for "mental illness". The level of care equalled or exceeded any I have experienced in a psychiatric hospital or drug rehabilitation center I have been unfortunate to be in. The other point I would like to make is that the lack of the mention of drug and alcohol addiction was startling in its absense. In my experience in the rehab aftercare and legal system in my state; I have heard professionals cite percentages of from 50-70% of crimes are committed either directly being in the drug trade or committing crimes under the influence. I know this first hand; as I would never once been in the legal system had I not abused alcohol. I have also suffered from intense anxiety and depression but I did not break the law without the alchol addiction added to the mix. That is my story but it is the story of many in the prison system as well.

Donna C
Vernon, CT

Dear FRONTLINE,

I work with severely emotionally disturbed children in the San Francisco Bay Area. Simply put this documentary let me glimpse the fate of many of the children I work with.

I do not mean to come across as pessimistic but for the mentally ill in California there are few resources save those that are provided to them as minors and those that exist once they are incarcerated. Once an "adult" at eighteen these children are often let go to fend for themselves without the guidance of the system that has raised them.

What option are they left with than to seek the resources that only the prison provides?

Nathaniel Chadwick
Richmond, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

I am a psychologist who works with delinquent youth in California. We have developed a program that assesses young offenders in order to identify their mental health issues make recomendations to the courts for treatment and begin the process of getting them the most effective interventions possible. After four years in business our in-house research shows the recidivism rate of our clients is about half that of a control group in Juvenile Hall who did not recieve such services. I have worked for two other programs that provided people who are incarcarated services to help them succeed in the "real world" with similar results. My conclussion is that as long as we as a society focus on punishment over rehabilitation in our justice system we will continue down the same road of skyrocketing costs and unnecessarily destroyed lives. Thank you Frontline for taking on this serious issue.

paul jenkins
sacramento, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

I have worked in the mental health field for over twenty five years. Half of this time was with the courts and jail system trying to divert the mentally ill from corrections whenever possible.

As a percentage we now have more mentally ill in jail and prisons than we did 100 years ago.

I now work in in a long term facility for the mentally ill. I daresay that the majority of the staff there feels the same as the general public.....that most mentally ill deserved to be punished or in prison.

We are trying to make a change in Indiana. Read about The PAIR Mental Health Diversion Program [http://pairprogram.blogspot.com/].

Thanks for the program.

This is a dark time in the treatment of mental illness. Will it change in my lifetime?

Robert Cardwell
Indianapolis, IN

Dear FRONTLINE,

Treating the mentally ill in prison is neither humane nor effective. The lack of secure psychiatric hospitals contributes to the high recidivism of offenders who are mentally ill. Patient rights groups and the courts have compounded the problem by giving the profoundly mentally ill the right to refuse medications. These meds are

often the only intervention which subdue symptoms that may lead them to offend or become violent. The prisons in our country have become dual use facilities - penal colonies and colonies for the chronically mentally ill.

don Headland
Morro, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

It is clear that parole is not working for these mentally ill in prisons.

If they had more assitance than sending them out with no family and resources they would survive better especailly being in a cell for years. In my expereience working with people in poverty the 2 weeks of meds given to them is helpful but not sustainable. During the leave from prison one doctor told him to find a doctor. I trully think it will take them 2 weeks or more to find a place before fidning a doctor they cant afford. There should be a program or non-profit developed to assist these folk.

Matt Zawacki
Phoenix, Arizona

Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank you for being the conscience of our nation once again. I wonder how many of the tens of thousands of mentally ill inmates would ever have committed a crime had they had access to quality affordable appropriate care when they first became symptomatic? Not only is this program an indictment of the manner in which we treat our poor and indigent mentally ill who come to the attention of the criminal justice system it is also an indictment of the social and healthcare policies that make first rate psychiatric care a luxury rather than a necessity.

Susan Braider
Red Hook, NY

Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank you for being the conscience of our nation once again. I wonder how many of the tens of thousands of mentally ill inmates would ever have committed a crime had they had access to quality affordable appropriate care when they first became symptomatic? Not only is this program an indictment of the manner in which we treat our poor and indigent mentally ill who come to the attention of the criminal justice system it is also an indictment of the social and healthcare policies that make first rate psychiatric care a luxury rather than a necessity.

Susan Braider
Red Hook, NY

Dear FRONTLINE,

The "documentary" fails to document the decisions made by experts who advocated closing mental hospitals. People ill prepared to cope with society were released. Many landed on the streets Others inhabited facilities for the homeless. It would be interesting to know the percentage who survived and thrived.

It was unrealistic to think that most of the former patients would continue with their medications on their own.

While I feel sorry that some of these patients are confined in prisons I do not blame our society. The blame rests with those so-called experts whose advocacy unfortunately was followed.

Elinor Stickney

Dear FRONTLINE,

As a Mental Health Counselor for the Georgia Department of Corrections I must commend you for your portrayal of this situation in our prisons today. My hope is that programing such as this will not leave viewers simply angry and disgusted. Hopefully some will be motivated to lobby for change in their various communities. This is an underserved population who consequently have been politically silenced. Let our awareness lead to action.

Billy Yarbrough
Atlanta, Georgia

Dear FRONTLINE,

Several websites on the internet are dedicated to the exploration and photographic preservation of modern ruins and abandoned structures.

Without exception each site features an abandoned mental health facility.

There are dozens of them scattered throughout the country vast structures situated on beautiful tracts of land many still containing beds and medical equipment as if hurriedly vacated fenced off and patrolled by private security agencies while they collapse into decay with no apparent efforts being made to utilize or preserve them. What a shame to confine our mentaly ill to prisions while these hospitals lapse into ruin.

What possible justification could there be for this?

thomas cowart
lawrenceville , Georgia

Dear FRONTLINE,

There are no easy answers. That would be an understatement.

From personal experience I can tell you that state mental hospitals are prisons unto themselves. I have never been convicted of a crime and have always volunteered for mental health treatment and yet I have found myself imprisoned and in isolation for many days on end.

I fear the mental health system. Frontline should investigate further. Where can the impoverished mentally go and receive quality treatment???

Seth Brigham
Boulder, Colorado

Dear FRONTLINE,

I was released from the Ohio prison system last year after servinga 4 year sentence.Your show was right on the money.There are alot of people who shouldnt be in prison at allthey need to be in a mental hospital!

bobby lowry

Dear FRONTLINE,

I am glad that treatment for mental illness inside correctional institutions was finally brought to he forefront in this Frontline documentary. I think the next natural step is to address and investigate the community mental health system that these men are forced into once they are released and parolled into the community. As a social worker who has worked with persons with persistent mental illness I have seen what happens to these men when they are released from prison into the community to "halfway houses" and the community mental health system. As the documentary mentioned they often "fall through the cracks" of the community mental health system and end up decompensating and often end up back in prison. The community mental health system at least in Ohio is overloaded and grossly underfunded which directly impacts the recidivism of parolees with mental illness. If the community mental health system could be overhauled as well as the psychiatric treatment in the prisons has been then these men would actually have a better chance of recovery and I would hope be able to live a life free of criminal activity. Thank you for your continued effort at addressing mental illness with your program.

L. Mattes

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posted may 10, 2006

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