Essential Reading: Boston Globe’s Spotlight Team Reports on “The New Asylums”

A new report on the insidious role prisons play in the state’s colossal failure to provide treatment for those who need it reminds us of the work that lies ahead.

The Temptations of Saint Anthony, from the Isenheim Altarpiece, by Mathias Grunewald (1475–1528), oil on canvas.
Show me a prison, show me a jail,
Show me a prisoner whose face has gone pale
And I’ll show you a young man with so many reasons why
And there but for fortune may go you or I
— Phil Ochs

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

In case you have not seen this article in the Boston Globe, it is a reminder of the essential work that we must do. (Please distribute widely and discuss.)

New Jersey shares many of the same problems as Massachusetts, and more: insufficient community mental health services, insufficient access to residential and hospital level care for people with mental illness, too many people not diverted through the police and the courts, from the prison system to the mental health system, too many people with mental illness not receiving appropriate mental health treatment in toxic prison environments, too many people with mental illness in torturous solitary confinement, too many people with mental illness retained in prison, instead of being paroled conditionally to the mental health system, too little follow-up care for people with mental illness leaving prison, too many people with mental illness caught in cycles of imprisonment, hospitalization, homelessness and inadequate shelter care.

We need more resources devoted to addressing these problems, instead of increasing punitive laws, policies and programs that harm people with mental illness and their families and communities.

We need better collaboration between lawyers and advocates, and their clients, and client-families, in the mental health and prison systems.

For additional information about mental illness in jails and prisons, please follow this link to the article and remember:

At the end of World War II, when Europe lay in ruins and England was bankrupt, both England and France adopted policies committing their governments to social benefits for their people — with England promising free universal education and higher education, and universal health care.

In the United States, still the richest and most powerful country on the planet, do not let anyone convince you that you should not make every attempt you can to ensure justice for the disabled vulnerable politically powerless population we are discussing today. We do this work so we can have a government and a society that we can be proud of. “And…there, but for fortune…”

Phil Ochs performing “There But For Fortune” circa 1968

JEAN ROSS is a volunteer prisoners’ rights attorney based in Princeton, New Jersey. Jean has spent most of her expansive career working with and on behalf of people confined in the only two public institutions that have the legal authority to confine people involuntarily — prisons and psychiatric hospitals. Before retiring, Jean was a public defender within Division of Mental Health and Guardianship Advocacy where she provided pro bono representation to psychiatric hospital patients. Since ‘retiring’, Jean has been a tireless advocate, activist, organizer, and leader on behalf of prisoners and their loved ones. She is “one of New Jersey’s most stalwart warriors against prisoner abuse.” She is a Board Member for the Center for Action Research and Director of the Prison Initiative Project.

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Community Legal & Advocacy Services Project

Based in Princeton, New Jersey, CLASP is a grassroots volunteer project that conducts pro bono impact litigation on behalf of prisoners fighting to end mass incarceration.