“The Released”: What HappensWhen The Mentally Ill are Released From Prisons and Jails?

Karima Amin

Karima Amin

Sadly, some of us have a bad habit of ostracizing and marginalizing people who don’t fit our opinions of who is beautiful, good, acceptable, and worthy of our respect, humanity, and value. The way that we view mentally ill individuals is a case in point. Our community is filled with people who suffer from mental illness and not all of them are able to access the proper medical attention or intervention that would help then to deal with their condition. Among those who are so marginalized and ostracized are prisoners and formerly incarcerated people who live with incarceration or the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction.  Mental illness further complicates their situation.

Today more mentally ill persons are in jails and prisons than hospitals. It has been this way in America for a long time. In the 1950’s, the process of deinstitutionalization began. This involved the emptying and closing of state mental hospitals that were overcrowded and old. With the advent of new medications, the symptoms of about half of the patients were improved. Unfortunately, the sickest patients were unable to make informed decisions about their own need for medication. By the 1970’s, it was obvious that mental illness was becoming viewed as criminality, which resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of mentally ill individuals in jails and prisons. This nation’s jails and prisons have replaced hospitals as the primary facility for mentally ill individuals. What happens when they are released?

We will consider this question at the next meeting of PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, INC., on Monday, February 29, at the Pratt-Willert Center, 422 Pratt St in Buffalo, from 7pm to 9pm, with the screening of a PBS film, “The Released.” Produced in 2009, this film follows the stories of several mentally ill men who struggle with getting their lives on track following release from prison. Additionally, we will have a guest speaker, Ms. Artelia “Tia” Lewis who is a Peer Advocate with the Mental Health Peer Connection of the Western New York Independent Living Project in Buffalo, NY. 

Many men and women suffering from some form of mental illness do not display overt signs or symptoms. These people could very well be your neighbor, the person in line with you at the supermarket, or at the bus stop. These people could be with you in school, at the library or the beauty salon or barber shop, or in your religious institutions.  These are our people in our community...in our families. Come out to this meeting to gain a better understanding of the problems they face that could also touch your life.

 For more information contact Karima Amin, karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org or BaBa Eng, g.babaeng@yahoo.com. www.prisonersarepeopletoo.org