U.S. National Institutes of Health

Mental Health and Incarceration

Description: In 2020, some of the largest mental health providers in the United States operate in prisons and jails. In this module, university students explore the historic roots of this issue by examining scholarly publications and historic documents. In particular, students learn about how reformers, physicians, and advocates have addressed the incarceration of people with mental health conditions over the past 200 years and have struggled to protect civil rights of people with mental health conditions and create a more inclusive society.These four classes provide readings, discussion questions, and activities to encourage students to consider new perspectives on mental health policy making from the past and the present. Information about the author of the module, suggested uses, and academic objectives is available at About the Module.

Class 1: Mental Health and Incarceration in the 21st Century

This class introduces students to the crisis of mental health and incarceration in the twenty–first century United States and the ways that policymakers and advocates have responded.

Class 2: The Historic Asylum Movement

This class examines how many people in the nineteenth century experienced insane asylums as prison–like places and the ways that people worked to effect change.

Class 3: A World Without Custodial Institutions

In this class, students read about how reformers in the 1960s imagined a future without custodial asylums or prisons and why that ideal failed to fully come to fruition.

Class 4: A Vision of Community Inclusion

This class examines archival documents about the 1977 Community Support Program, federal legislation which sought to improve community inclusion for people with mental health conditions.