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County Jail Now Has An Acute Mental Health Unit

Sep 29, 2020
Westchester County jail
Courtesy of Google maps via law.com

There’s now a special housing unit at a county jail in New York’s Hudson Valley to support mental health treatment.

Electronic monitoring. Locked-down drug treatment centers. House arrest. Mandated psychiatric treatment. Data-driven surveillance. Extended probation. These are some of the key alternatives held up as cost-effective substitutes for jails and prisons. But many of these so-called reforms actually widen the net, weaving in new strands of punishment and control, and bringing new populations, who would not otherwise have been subject to imprisonment, under physical control by the state.

As mainstream public opinion has begun to turn against mass incarceration, political figures on both sides of the spectrum are pushing for reform. But, though they’re promoted as steps to confront high rates of imprisonment, many of these measures are transforming our homes and communities into prisons instead.

In the book "Prison by Any Other Name," activist journalists Maya Schenwar and Victoria Law reveal the way the kinder, gentler narrative of reform can obscure agendas of social control and challenge us to question the ways we replicate the status quo when pursuing change.

Behind bars, Chris Wilson embarked on a remarkable journey of self-improvement; reading, working out, learning languages, even starting a business. At the age of twenty, he wrote a list of things he intended to accomplish or acquire; he called it his Master Plan.

He revised it regularly and followed it religiously. And, by his thirties, Chris Wilson did the impossible: he convinced a judge to reduce his sentence. He came out, six years later, determined to teach others the selflessness, work ethic, and professional skills that led to his second chance.

Wilson's memoir is "The Master Plan: My Journey from Life in Prison to a Life of Purpose."

In November, WAMC aired an interview with Berkshire County Sheriff Thomas Bowler. In it, he expressed his disbelief in the effectiveness of medically assisted treatments – or MATs – for inmates suffering from opioid addictions. Bowler favors an abstinence policy over medications like suboxone and methadone. His statements underscored the lack of consensus in the commonwealth over the role of MATs in the criminal justice system. Sheriff Christopher Donelan, his neighbor to the east, runs the Franklin County House Of Corrections in Greenfield, Massachusetts. First elected in 2011, Donelan embraced the use of MATs in the jail in 2016. He spoke with WAMC about why he’s become an advocate for the practice.

A white man with glasses sits behind a wooden desk in an office
Josh Landes / WAMC

Continuing a series of conversations with top law enforcement officials in Berkshire County, WAMC Berkshire Bureau Chief Josh Landes sat down with Sheriff Thomas Bowler for an extended interview this week.

Alisa Roth is a former staff reporter for Marketplace and frequent contributor to various NPR programs. A Soros Justice Fellow, her work has also appeared in the New York Review of Books and New York Times.

America has made mental illness a crime. Jails in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago each house more people with mental illnesses than any hospital. As many as half of all people in America's jails and prisons have a psychiatric disorder. One in four fatal police shootings involves a person with such disorders.

In "Insane: America's Criminal Treatment of Mental Illness," Roth goes deep inside the criminal justice system to show how and why it has become a warehouse where inmates are denied proper treatment, abused, and punished in ways that make them sicker.

Thousands of pregnant women pass through our nation’s jails every year. What happens to them as they carry their pregnancies in a space of punishment? In this time when the public safety net is frayed, incarceration has become a central and racialized strategy for managing the poor.

In her book Jailcare, Carolyn Sufrin explores how jail has, paradoxically, become a place where women can find care. Carolyn Sufrin is a medical anthropologist and an obstetrician-gynecologist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

In the 1970s, the United States had an incarceration rate comparable to those of other liberal democracies-and that rate had held steady for over 100 years. Yet today, though the US is home to only about 5 percent of the world's population, we hold nearly one quarter of its prisoners. Mass incarceration is now widely considered one of the biggest social and political crises of our age. How did we get to this point?

Locked In is a revelatory investigation into the root causes of mass incarceration by one of the most exciting scholars in the country. Having spent fifteen years studying the data on imprisonment, John Pfaff takes apart the reigning consensus created by Michelle Alexander and other reformers, revealing that the most widely accepted explanations-the failed War on Drugs, draconian sentencing laws, an increasing reliance on private prisons-tell us much less than we think.

Jail cell
Flickr

Authorities have arrested 11 people following a three-month investigation into contraband smuggling at the Albany County Jail.

WAMC file photo

The New York Civil Liberties Union has announced a major development in its work on prison conditions in New York State.

WAMC photo by Dave Lucas

Members of the Release Marquis Campaign rallied at Albany City Hall last night, calling for the Common Council to  unanimously pass a Raise The Age Resolution.

WAMC Photo by Dave Lucas

An inmate who smuggled weapons into the Albany County Jail was apparently trying to organize a "jailhouse gang."

Sean Collins

With two prominent racially sensitive cases dominating headlines in recent weeks, the Albany County District Attorney is hearing from an impatient community.

  The Emmy-award winning Orange is the New Black, based on Piper Kerman’s memoir of the same name, depicts her arrest, conviction and incarceration for drug-trafficking. The show’s third season premieres tomorrow.

But the book and Netflix series are from only Kerman’s perspective. Now, Cleary Wolters, the real life Alex Vause and Piper's former drug-smuggling lover, tells her side of the story in a new book, Out of Orange.