Seasoned investigative journalist Earley (Super Casino, 2000, etc.) splices together the story of his son’s alarming brush with the law and a report on our society’s criminalization of the mentally ill.
The author was so upset by what happened to his son after he was arrested for breaking into a house while in a delusional state that he set out to discover just how the mental-health system works in America today. What he found is that the new insane asylums are prisons, neither safe nor humane places. In Miami—the city was chosen for Earley’s investigation because it has a high percentage of mentally ill residents—the author was given wide access to the Miami-Dade County Jail. He spent a year there observing how mentally ill prisoners are treated. He followed their cases through the courts and traced their progress once they were back on the streets. Earley also interviewed a Miami judge, lawyers, psychiatrists, patient advocates and the founder of a halfway house. He draws a bleak and disturbing picture. The closing of state mental hospitals that began in the 1960s left most patients homeless and without access to the community services that were supposed to form their new safety net, he reports; by the 1990s, jails and prisons were being swamped by psychotic prisoners. Society has gone backwards in it handling of the mentally ill, he argues, and we must develop modern long-term treatment facilities where they can be helped and kept safe. The author’s own frustrating experience with his son convinced him that commitment laws are heavily biased in favor of patients’ civil rights and against intervention and treatment; he urges bringing doctors and patients’ loved ones back into the decision-making process.
An urgent plea for change that gains force by putting a human face on a sociological problem.