Blanket of Nothingness

A veteran with PTSD seeks solace in her faith

First in a series: The New Dumping Grounds

By Allisha Azlan and Abhinanda Datta
The Medill Justice Project

Mental illness is an epidemic in U.S. prisons, especially for women. That’s the widespread conclusion of human rights groups across the globe, including the World Health Organization, which calls prisons the “dumping grounds” for people with mental illness. In the United States, nearly 400,000 inmates with severe mental illness are locked in jails or prisons. Indeed, there are more seriously mentally ill people incarcerated in U.S. jails and prisons than in psychiatric hospitals, according to the Treatment Advocacy Center, a nonprofit focused on the treatment of severe mental illness. Abuses at psychiatric institutions in the mid-20th Century led to widespread closings of state hospitals, forcing many patients into the criminal justice system. In state prisons, 73 percent of female inmates reported mental health problems, compared to 55 percent of male inmates, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Incarcerated women are more likely than male inmates to report histories of physical, sexual and emotional abuse. The most common afflictions among female inmates are post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and substance abuse, studies show. Many incarcerated women with psychiatric disorders do not receive treatment, and it is common for mentally ill inmates to be housed in solitary confinement, which often exacerbates their condition, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. With this upcoming visual series, The Medill Justice Project examines what is a largely unseen, overlooked problem in the U.S. criminal justice system.

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