Alisa Roth

Alisa Roth—March 12, 2019

In America, having a mental illness has become a crime. One in four fatal police shootings involves a person with mental illness. The country’s three largest providers of mental health are not hospitals, but jails. As many as half the people in US jails and prisons have a psychiatric problem.

In her book, Insane: America’s Criminal Treatment of Mental Illness, journalist Alisa Roth goes deep inside the criminal justice system to reveal how America’s tough-on-crime policies have transformed it into a warehouse for people with mental illness, one where prisoners are denied proper treatment, abused, and punished in ways that make them sicker. She introduces us to ordinary people whose untreated mental illnesses drive them repeatedly into the justice system—and in some cases, to their deaths.

As a 2014-2015 Soros Justice Fellow, Roth spent a year investigating the growing role of jails and prisons as our de facto mental healthcare system. She has visited the country’s three largest psychiatric care providers, Rikers Island in New York City, the Cook County Jail in Chicago, and the Los Angeles County Jail in LA, and her research has included dozens of interviews with prisoners and their families, psychiatrists, lawyers, wardens, corrections officers and others.

Roth’s previous journalism has taken her around the world: she has interviewed Syrian refugees in Turkey, Egyptian migrants in Jordan, Afghan asylum seekers in Germany, unemployed autoworkers in Michigan, and women who work as day laborers in New York City.

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