the released

What are your reactions to this report? Would you agree that America’s community-based mental health care system is a disaster?

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In the news media, we hear a great deal about the mortage crisis faced by middle class people, and about the problems of banks, investment firms, and insurance companies. Seldom is there reporting on the housing crisis of low-income and indigent people, particularly the mentally ill. As was pointed out in the program, medical treatment without permanent housing makes no sense. There are some cases which are so difficult that even being able to cope with living in a group home would not be possible. There is still a need for long-term hospitalization in some cases. Problems with the quality of care in mental health, even when residential services are available, is something that the media rarely reports on. ...

I also agree with other viewers that PBS should cover other points of view in the mental health area. ...

Daniel Cohn
Valparaiso, IN


I cannot get last night's show out of my mind. It was a very timely broadcast as just yesterday our Illinois legislators voted to close the state-run facility where my sister is a resident. It is devastating news for my family. It coincides with the mentality that "The Released" referred to that the mentally disabled should be "free" and incorporated more into the community. My sister once lived in a private community group home. The were unable to handle some of my sister's challenges and moved her to the state facility which has been a godsend. There is a preconceived notion about "state institutions", and rightfully so, but they are not what they once were. I wish more of my tax dollars were spent on helping the mentally disabled achieve "freedom" as it needs to be defined for them.

Lisa Plichta
Chicago, IL


Thank you so much for your program dealing with the mentally ill in prison. As a worker in prison ministry for 15 years, I have long been aware that a large percentage of inmates are classified as mentally ill. However, this subject is one I have only learned about and discussed with the inmates themselves. Frontline, thank you for caring enough about these human beings to inform the public. I see a lot of things about prison on television, but never have I seen anything like The Released.

It was no surprise that 1/2 of the people in prison are classified as mentally ill, considering the lack of services provided and the lack of resources available upon release.

It is my purpose to work with people headed for prison, those in prison and those who have been released. This program inspires me to keep working to offer these human beings a chance to survive and thrive in our society and to become whole even while in prison.

Thank you again for your every effort in producing The Released.

Alice Batey
Baton Rouge, LA


"The Released" is a powerful reminder of a failed system that is in crisis with 350,000 people on parole/probation with mental illness without the community treatment programs that are needed to keep this population from going back to prison. As a family member with a loved one incarcerated with a psychiatric disability, I continue to be astounded by the lack of concern by the public and our public/elected officials to make the changes necessary to stop the recividism. In New York State the main prison population has gone down by 12% but at the same time the incarceration of the mentally ill has gone up 17%. Four thousand prisoners with mental illness are locked up in Rikers each day. Prison profits and prison jobs come first even though it is much less costly to treat people in the community. I felt saddened after I watched "The Release" to realize that we live in a society that chooses to support public policy that punishes people instead of treating them.

Leah Gitter
New York, New York


Thank you for airing this show on Mental Illness. Our son is now living in a wonderful assisted living facility. He will be living there 2 years next month and in an enviorment where he feels safe and comfortable with who he is. He takes his medications everyday and hasn't had a relapse to go back into the hospital for 1 1/2 years. The sad part is in order to get him to this point, we his parents had to have him arrested for stealing from our home. He was in jail 4 months and then went to a treatment facility where there was a waiting list because there are so many in need. This was the only way he would be forced to get the help he needed. This was our last resort after many attempts of court ordered hospital stays and being Baker Acted. We tried to keep him living home as long as we could, but when he would stop his medications he became violent. The legal system is a nightmare and I feel very sorry for the people who don't have family members to advocate for them. We don't know what we would have done without the support of the National Alliance of Mental Health who helped us get through years of pain with our son. It takes months for our son to take one small step, but he is doing that living in this facility. Our son is a kind, caring, respectful person who wants to feel like anyone else in this world. Everyone who meets our son feels there is hope and he will someday live a productive life for himself. Our son is 31 years old.

This show proved how long term consistent treatment, supportive advocates and quality facilities keep people out of jail. This is where our tax dollars need to be spent instead of the cost of them being in jail. Mentally Ill people are human beings who need our support.

South, Florida


A moving and eye-opening documentary. I'm extremely impressed by this work and deeply grateful to the people involved. I had a hard time falling asleep afterward because I couldn't stop thinking of the individuals in the documentary, the terrible challenges they face, and how they have been abandoned by the state. Their faces are seared in my memory. But perhaps you could have said more about what a good system of 'institutionalization' might look like. I thought you were suggesting that society should not simply ignore the plight of people who 'cannot care for themselves'. So what kind of institutions should be created? Why did 'deinstitutionalization' happen in the first place, and should it be brought back? What were its limitations? Or is the problem much deeper, that of a 'free market' society whose self-help ethos runs counter to caring for the people who are most vulnerable and therefore in need of more help? What kinds of changes (institutional, attitudinal) should we be thinking about?

Sandy Christen
Irvine, CA

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

Click here for a primer on deinstitutionalization by E. Fuller Torrey, M.D., excerpted for FRONTLINE's 2005 report, The New Asylums.


Last night's show was well done and I applaud you for taking up this troubling issue. Deinstitutionalization of mentally ill patients was launched in the 1960s with the best of intentions; but for people who are severely chronically mentally ill it has merely replaced one disastrous situation (squalid, state-run warehouses) for another equally unacceptable alternative. One aspect of this story you did not cover is the Medicaid "Institutions for Mental Disease Exclusion" (commonly known as the IMD Exclusion), which prohibits Medicaid from reimbursing the cost of care provided to patients who receive treatment in free-standing psychiatric facilities (facilities that, unlike prisons, are staffed and equipped to compassionate, humane and clinically effective care for the severely chronically mentally ill). Few will argue that the state-run mental hospitals of the past were, for the most part, horrible places. Today, most of them are gone. But several high quality private psychiatric institutions remain in operation today. However, owing to the IMD Exclusion, which is part of the original 1965 Medicaid legislation, these outstanding hospitals cannot afford to treat adult Medicaid patients. Please consider including this crucial policy aspect of our country's ongoing mental health saga in your future reporting.

Jeff K.
Granby, MA


Frontline is my favorite program...I never miss it. "The Released" was a blunt explanation of the many problems facing society and the legal system in general. I remember the days of mental institutions, and I remember the rise of groups that targeted the institutions as places of dehumanization, and to this I totally disagree. Some have criticized your broadcast as portraying too much reliance on medication. I was in depression denial as were the subjects of your broadcast. Until a few years ago I felt most people used metal illness as an excuse not to work or not to face life, this until I could no longer control the severe depression and mania I suffered with most of my life as a youth and adult. My wife of 30 years threatened to leave me until I finally sought out a professional that tried numerous medications on me. My symptoms of "bi-polar" are now under control thanks to Seroquel. I live in a stable atmosphere where the subjects you followed did not. I have all the support I need, they did not. If I had to face their uncertainties and future, being thrown out in the street with little or no assistance, the last thing I'd be concerned with is taking my meds on a regular basis, and trying to become a productive citizen. Hopefully your broadcast will change some of the minds of the few that state that any institutionalization is wrong, then we can get down to business and figure out a correct course that will benefit the mentally ill and heal the social stigma.

Don P
Hutchinson, Kansas


Thank you for sharing this story. It's a shame there aren't more group homes or assisted living facilities. It would cost taxpayers a lot less money, there would be less homelessness, and communities would be safer. We take care of our elderly and the poor. The mentally ill slip through the cracks.

Tucson, AZ


Thanks to Frontline again for a program well done. I had no idea of the lack of safety nets for the mentally ill. I can't believe that we as a society think that this is the right approach. When I saw that man given 2 weeks worth of medication and $75.00 then sent packing; my heart bled! Your stories though the tip of the iceberg, showed how the system perpetuates a cycle that puts both the person in need of services and the general public at risk. It is clear that the closing of state mental institutions with no realistic alternative for the chronic mentally ill was the wrong call and should be addressed and corrected. God bless the professionals on the Frontline of what appears to be a loosing battle. How can a private citizen like myself get involved to create a positive change for the better and help these folks?

Littleton, CO

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

Click here for national and state government contact information, as well as organizations that deal with the mentally ill and prisoners with mental illnesses.


Thank you for this program, having a nephew with mental illness,it really pointed out the effect on a person's life. My nephew is able to maintain in an apartment and sees his counselor and psych Dr. often. He is given an injection plus oral meds. I pray for him as his parents do much with him, I worry what will become of him however when they are unable to do these things . ... Many BRAVOS to the Bridgewater Efforts, so much more is needed from our society. The mentally ill are often brushed aside.

Diane Bennett
Victor, NY


Thank you for presenting the unbelievable plight of mentally ill populations in jail that are released back to mostly unprepared communities anywhere USA. "Released" is repeated thousands of times in the USA on a daily basis. What a tragedy.

As a former County Commissioner, I led the initiative to reform our Community Mental Health Services programs for over four years. Early in the process I discovered one of the greatest assetts any community can have is a combined mental health/community service program that successfully diagnosises individuals with diversion treatment options, hopefully, keeping them out of jail in the right treatment setting. That setting is called a Consolidated Crisis Response Center (CCRC). Some of you know this setting as a TRIAGE. ...

Community Mental Health Delivery Systems are in need of serious reform and rethinking through out the USA. Unfortunately, some of the greatest opponents to real mental health reform say one thing publicialy while doing quite the opposite behind closed doors. Suicides continue and those that really need help are abandoned to a system that left to itself remains broken with real live humans paying the ultimate price. We must do better.

Claude Oliver
Kennewick (Benton County), Washington 99337


I applaud Frontline for bringing into focus a very pressing human and social problem in your episode "The Released". I encourage every viewer with empathy for the subject to get actively involved in the process of raising community awareness, promoting legal reforms, and developing funding for expanded resources for those afflicted with mental illness. There are several groups devoted to advocacy for this neglected segment of society, NAMI being just one outstanding. Jail is a shameful substitute for our nationwide lack of availability to mental health facilities and group residences.

Trisha Justice
Durango, Colorado


Thank you! What a brave and important message you shared (esp. dual diagnoses). However, as a sister of a brother with mental illness, your perspective was not optimistic enough. As there is immense darkness surrounding mental illness, the supportive individuals helping people through it helps equalize the pain. I believe that enmass, the public is poorly educated and your depiction of mental illness was somewhat scary because it was not buffered enough with the caring individuals that possess the ideology and education to help them navigate through their cyclical pattern of psychosis/medication (albiet their struggle is not that limited). I believe that educating the public on how to help their family members (esp. the next generation) through what may seem like a hopeless situation would be an invaluable tool. ... State institutions and mentally ill prisoners can be seen (esp. in this economy) as weights to those who do not have relationships and hope for our mentally ill. I believe that a light needs to be shone most where there is the most darkness and this issue needs a lot of light. Thank You again and I hope that you will consider reissuing this subject in a new, more optimistic light in the future.

las vegas, nv


Thank you so much for broadcasting "The Released"! I have been a mental health professional since the early 1980's, and I was impressed and deeply touched by the accurate and compassionate portrayals of men with mental illness who so desperately need the effective treatment and case management that is too rarely available in much of the country. I have witnessed very positive outcomes from mental health court and homeless court, and urge every community to explore these humane and successful methods of reducing suffering and incarceration.

Shannon Peterson
Garden Grove, CA

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

FRONTINE's cameras were granted exclusive access to Allegheny County [Penn.] Mental Health Court. Click here for extra video and readings and resources on the subject.


posted april 28, 2009

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