In the early 1840's, crusading prison reformer Dorothea Dix wrote
a scathing report to the Massachusetts legislature:
I proceed, Gentlemen, briefly to call your attention to the state of Insane
Persons confined within this Commonwealth, in cages, closets, cellars, stalls,
pens: Chained, naked, beaten with rods, and lashed into obedience!
Dix argued that the many insane people in Massachussetts jails and almshouses
did not belong there; they should be placed in more humane institutions designed
just for them. Massachusetts and other states responded. Dix's campaign led to
the construction of some 30 new mental institutions. Forty years after she started
her campaign, the 1880 United States Census said 99% of the nation's 'insane persons'
lived at home or in asylums. Only a few hundred were in jail. That was the practice
in the US for the next century: mentally ill people who couldn't cope on their
own were confined in mental hospitals. Most never had the chance to live freely
in societyor to get in trouble there.
That has changed. Last year the U.S. Justice Department said 280,000
people with serious mental illnesses were in jail or prisonmore
than four times the number in state mental hospitals. American RadioWorks
Correspondent John Biewen explores why.
A Visit to Jail