the 1960s, states began closing mental health institutions all across the
country. While the majority of mental health institutions were unforgiving
dungeons where people were warehoused under inhumane conditions, the decision
to “deinstitutionalize” the treatment of mental illness was largely for the
purposes of divesting the state of responsibility for those who needed care.
Combined with ongoing budget cuts to community-based resources,
deinstitutionalization has meant that people with mental illness are denied
essential services and treatment.
people with mental illness frequently find themselves jailed or incarcerated,
effectively punished for not having the resources to manage their illnesses.
Experts believe that over half of the prison and jail population has a mental
illness. A quarter of that population has a serious mental illness such as
schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Jails and prisons are now de facto mental
health facilities, and are ill equipped to do the job. Once confined, persons
with mental illness rarely receive adequate mental health treatment and are at
increased risk of being subjected to the harshest of punishments, including
20th Annual Conference on Race Class
Gender and Ethnicity, Cruel and Unusual: How the United States Punishes Persons
with Mental Illness considers the effects of deinstitutionalization and
state divestment from the care of persons with mental illnesses. The Conference
will examine how the refusal to allocate sufficient mental health resources has
led to cruel and extreme punishment. To discuss these issues, the Conference
invites practitioners, academics, advocates, and local community members who
will consider how the criminal justice system has become the default mental
health system. Conference topics include the lack of available mental health
treatment in correctional facilities, the misuse of solitary confinement to
punish prisoners with mental health issues, and the disproportionate and
wrongful use of the death penalty on persons with mental illnesses. We hope to
explore how best to achieve meaningful reform to better serve this population.
Conference will be held in the Rotunda of UNC Chapel Hill’s law school on
February 27, 2016, from 9 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. and is open to the public.