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Eric Bailey
An activity therapist at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Bailey deals mainly with the most seriously mentally ill inmates. In this interview, he explains how he treats the inmates and why they seem to trust him. "I think if the guys really respect you and they know you respect them, and you treat them as equals, or treat them as just human beings, I think they really respond to that. I'm no better than anyone else, so who am I to downgrade someone else?" he says. "Sometimes I feel like a big brother, because a lot of these guys just need that. They've never had guidance that's in their lives." Bailey also talks about the need to prepare inmates for a transition to the real world after prison. "We have got to remember, these people are locked up, and they're not going to stay locked up all their life," he says. "… We have to try to correct [their problems]. That's why it's called corrections."

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Dr. Gary Beven
Beven is a psychiatrist inside Ohio's maximum-security Lucasville prison. Here, he explains what it's like to try to provide effective psychiatric treatment inside a prison. "We receive the failures of the community mental health system very often," he says, " … inmates that are sentenced for short periods of time for common crimes, that fell through the cracks, that were perhaps homeless, actively psychotic, based in a lower-security prison and then filtered down to Lucasville because they just can't cope with prison life." Beven also discusses the ethics of working with people who have committed terrible crimes; the issue of malingerers; the dangers of placing mentally ill inmates in segregation; and the tensions between his job and corrections officers' jobs. "… The prison doesn't exist to provide mental health treatment, and because the prison exists to provide security and safety to the community, that's a natural barrier for somebody like myself to come in and want to interject myself into that setting and assume or believe that my medical judgment might supersede what corrections professionals and security would think would be the right thing to do," he tells FRONTLINE.

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Fred Cohen
An expert in juvenile justice, Cohen is professor emeritus of law and criminal justice at the State University in New York, Albany. As the court-appointed monitor in the Dunn v. Voinovich lawsuit, he led a team that investigated conditions for the mentally ill in Ohio prisons; many of the team's recommendations were subsequently enacted. In this interview, Cohen discusses the results of the suit and the limitations prisons face in trying to improve mental health care. "These lawsuits have clearly made it better for these inmates. Better -- I wouldn't say good," he says. "These lawsuits are demonstrably helpful. People are taken out of conditions that were barbaric, uncivilized, unhealthful, harmful. … You could have the best intentions and the best commitment of resources to helping prisoners while they're mentally ill, ... but [prison] will never be the [ideal] place where you want to provide that treatment, and it will never reach sort of idealistic goals."

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Alphonse Gerhardstein
Gerhardstein is a civil rights attorney in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the president of the Prison Reform Advocacy Center. In this interview, he discusses his work on behalf of mentally ill prisoners. "We tend to want to just lock people up and think about our own safety," he tells FRONTLINE. "But when I pick a jury and I remind people that in Ohio 19,000 prisoners are released every year, they seem surprised. And then the question is, so what kind of neighbor are they going to make?" Gerhardstein also discusses his involvement in the Dunn v. Voinovich lawsuit and the reforms that came from that litigation, including adequate mental health care staffing, fixing communication between the medical, mental health and treatment staffs, and improved training to help both the staff and the inmates understand their illnesses.

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Debbie Nixon-Hughes
Nixon-Hughes is chief of the Bureau of Mental Health Services within the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. In this interview she describes the challenges facing America's prisons in their dual roles as correctional facilities and mental institutions, and the problem of trying to reintegrate the inmates back into the community upon their release. "Unfortunately, sometimes people say they can get getter services in prison than they can get in the community," she says. Pessimistic about society's willingness to fund community mental health services in "an age where no one wants new taxes," she fears inmates will psychologically decompensate and cycle within the criminal justice system. "Are we going to just have a revolving door where they're not going to be able to get those services and end up back in prison?" she asks.

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Jim Schmidt
Schmidt has been a corrections officer at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville for over 15 years. He specializes in getting potentially violent inmates out of their cells and into group therapy sessions with activity therapist Eric Bailey. In this interview, he discusses the difficulty of remaining empathetic and calm when mentally ill prisoners act out. "Sometimes you're dealing with people here that don't act human, and it just burns you. It just goes through your system. ... [But] you can't even think about that when you walk up and down that range, …" he says. "No matter who you are, if you're a corrections officer, you're also a social worker, because when you go up on the range and these inmates have a problem, you're not going to just walk on by, because you want to prevent a problem."

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Reginald Wilkinson
As director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction for the past 14 years, Wilkinson oversaw the reforms improving mental health care within Ohio's prison system. Here, he describes how the Dunn v. Voinovich lawsuit spurred the change in Ohio. "[I]t was not a contentious process," he tells FRONTLINE. "We did not fight in the way we have with some other lawsuits, because we knew that in addition to some of the problems that we knew existed, we knew that it was an opportunity to help repair the mental health system in the state. And that's exactly what happened." Wilkinson also explains how the numbers of mentally ill in prison have increased so dramatically over the past 50 years; why it's so critical for officials to understand the difference between "mad versus bad," and what is necessary to improve mentally ill prisoners' reentry into society.

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posted may 10, 2005

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