Sunday, June 2, 2013

Crazy—Book About Mentally Ill in the Criminal Justice System

Spurred by his son's mental illness and prosecution for breaking into a neighbor's house while he was delusional, journalist Pete Earley spent two years exploring what happens to mentally ill Americans, particularly those who encounter the criminal justice system. The result is a conassionate, revealing, and disturbing book: Crazy: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness (2006).

Since the national movement to deinstitutionalize people with mental illness in the 1980s, many more people with very serious conditions are living on the margins of society, often on the streets. There are inadequate services available to them—community mental health clinics, sheltered living situations, support groups.

All too often they commit crimes related to their illness and land in jail. There are the headline-making crimes (the gruesome murderof a family), but also a thousand petty crimes. For instance, Earley interview and befriends a man who writes "Jesus 2007" on buildings and walls to announce his belief that Jesus is about to return; the man is repeatedly jailed because of his graffiti. At a bus stop, one woman yells at another, "Stop stealing my thoughts!" and shoves her. The second woman isn't hurt and doesn't want to press charges, but the delusional woman is jailed nonetheless.

Earley spent most of his time in Miami, but tells us that the horrible conditions he observed in the Miami-Dade jail's psych floor are not uniquely bad and could be found in many other places. His sustained reporting in one l adds depth to the book, because he is able to follow several people from jail to hospital and back. He interviews many other participants in the system too: a reforming judge, a jail psychiatrist, parents in a support group, correctional officers, nurses, and more.

You can read the first chapter on Earley's website. Earley's blog provides updates and commentary on mental health issues. By the way, Earley has this "important note" on his website: "The word 'CRAZY' in the book title refers to the mental health care system."

1 comment:

Brain Injury Attorney Dallas TX said...

These people have special place where they can express themselves not in a violent way. They can't do anything about it.. They don't have control. But sane people (families) should be the one who will look after a mentally-ill person.