AVID Jail Project

Listen to this post: 

Trigger warning: Abuse, neglect, and incarceration of people with mental illness. Read or listen to this blog post with discretion.

Did you know there are more people with mental illness in prison or jail than being treated in psychiatric hospitals? Into the 1800s, we used to put mentally ill people in jail. As a society, we decided that was inhumane and opened up the psychiatric hospitals. As it turns out, those places were warehouses of incredible abuse and neglect and over-medication. Most closed decades ago. Guess what we did to support the community of people experiencing mental illness when we closed the hospitals? Sent them to jail and prison. As I’ve written about before and others have documented widely, many are also brutalized by police.

For every one person in a psych hospital now, there are 10 in prison or jail. Some are forced into medication to silence them. Others are denied medications they want and need. Either way, counseling and rehab are not happening either, and a lot of folks end up in solitary confinement (especially horrid for someone who is mentally unstable), being victimized by others, and/or severely harming themselves. The World Health Organization spells out problems and possible solutions–and their benefits–in a nicely non-academic jargon way in this Mental Health and Prisons Fact Sheet. You can also visit the FRONTLINE FAQ page associated with their piece, “The New Asylums” for more information.

Enter the Amplifying Voices of Inmates with Disabilities (AVID) Jail Project of Disability Rights Washington. They focus on improving conditions, treatment, and a range of services for people with mental illness in jails in King County. They monitor, investigate, and advocate for sustainable reform in King County Jail and South Correctional Entity (SCORE). They also produce outstanding videos and media to give the space for inmates with mental illness to advocate for themselves, in their own words. The video below is a great example of that. It has Open and Closed Captions. It also shows my neighbor and TBI community member Tommy Manning, who’s one of many activists forced to work from behind jail bars.

Please visit the RootedInRights YouTube Channel for more videos from the AVID Jail Project and other projects. The videos are captioned and some have Audio Description too.

Also, consider checking out two audio recordings of a Disability and Incarceration panel from earlier this year where disabled people of color spoke candidly about their experiences being funneled into the correctional system (I use that term lightly) as a matter of white supremacist, classist, and ableist oppression. Panel included Mark Cook, Dorian Taylor, Bypolar. Prison art showcase by Ed Mead.