Carceral institutions are the largest providers of mental health services in the United States. The number of prisoners suffering from severe mental illness is estimated to be 10 times larger than the number of patients in psychiatric hospitals. Indeed, clinical psychologist Nneka Jones Tapia was recently appointed to run Cook County Jail, the second-largest in the country, where more than a third of the 9000 inmates suffer from mental illness. The criminalization of mental illness obscures its social determinants—poverty, homelessness, trauma, and adverse childhood experiences—and ideologically props up the larger criminal (in)justice system. Mental illness is common, an estimated one-quarter of people in the United States experience it, and the way that they are stigmatized and discriminated against reveals much about how capitalism needs to sort people into productive, reproductive and surplus populations.
This talk will attempt to contribute to an understanding of how the war on drugs, deinstitutionalization, the recriminalization of mental illness, and neoliberal economic restructuring, led to the most incarcerated nation the world has ever known.