Photo by Ekaterina Bolovtsova via Pexels
It’s often said that, proportionately, more people with mental health disorders circulate through the nation’s criminal justice system than through hospitals, mental health clinics, doctors’ offices and other medical facilities.
A 2022 U.S. Department of Justice analysis concluded that half of those in U.S. jails and a third of those in U.S. prisons had a diagnosed mental health disorder. In addition, a substantial number of others behind bars have reported undiagnosed or untreated mental health concerns.
This map of Little Rock, Ark. was issued by the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation. Historical records show that the red areas — which were rated as “hazardous” — were neighborhoods home to Black residents. According to population data lined to the map, Black Americans represented at least 30% of the population in some of those areas. Some worked in lumber plants, shops, and private homes as housekeepers, according to archival sources. Click the map for an interactive map showing how this practice, known as “redlining”, led to social vulnerability in those neighborhoods today.
Source: Robert K. Nelson and Edward L. Ayers, accessed May 10, 2023
Stories about health disparities — even ones about CDC statistics — need context about the social causes that contribute to them. Five academic reports about the history of laws and policies regulating key determinants of health offer those nuances. Critically, these reports expose how intentionally discriminatory legislation and regulation in housing, education, employment and other areas have influenced poor health outcomes in Americans of color — and may continue to for many years.
A Philadelphia police officer’s recent, fatal shooting of 27-year-old Walter Wallace Jr., as he wielded a knife, dramatized how, according to the numbers, those with mental illness are less likely to do harm than to be harmed, including by law enforcement.
In its most recent report on this topic, “Overlooked in the Undercounted,” the national Treatment Advocacy Center said persons with mental illness were 16 times more likely than those without mental illness to be killed during encounters with law enforcement. While the mentally ill account for 1 in 50 adults, they are estimated to represent 1 in 4 adults who are approached by police, the center’s researchers wrote. Continue reading
Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio
Often, when a police officer shoots an unarmed black man, news coverage is confined to the echoes of debate over who is right and who is wrong. If journalists fail to advance the story beyond this narrative, they risk becoming unwitting accomplices in numbing the public to these tragedies.
This does a disservice to readers, viewers and listeners who seek better understanding of the full impact of what, in recent years, has become a public health crisis in our nation. Continue reading
One of the sessions featured at Health Journalism 2017 in Orlando explored the intersection of the criminal justice system and mental illness in the United States from various angles. This Storify includes tweets from multiple attendees at the session – along with quite a number of leads for story ideas.
A fair amount of the session was unfortunately unsurprising in revealing how the justice system has become one of the nation’s biggest mental health care providers (if not the largest), but hearing about the sheer scale of the problem was nonetheless enlightening and disturbing. This topic area is rich with potential story ideas that are woefully undercovered and underappreciated. Continue reading