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Alisa Roth documents the criminal treatment of mental illness

Portrait: Matthew Septimus | Book art: Basic Books


The largest providers of psychiatric care in the US aren’t hospitals – they’re jails and prisons. On this edition of Your Call, we speak with journalist Alisa Roth about her new book Insane: America’s Criminal Treatment of Mental Illness.


Roth shows how the dysfunction and cruelty of nineteenth-century asylums have reappeared in modern jails and prisons. She found that inmates are denied proper treatment, abused, and punished in ways that make them sicker. Everyone she interviewed, from people behind bars to prosecutors, said the system isn’t working. What would a more humane approach look like?


Alisa Roth, radio and print reporter, former staff reporter at Marketplace, and author of Insane: America’s Criminal Treatment of Mental Illness

Web Resources:

New York Times: The ‘Insane’ Way Our Prison System Handles the Mentally Ill

The Atlantic: Prisons Are the New Asylums

Berkeleyside: Opinion: Mental illness, the criminal justice system, and the homelessness crisis

Tulsa World: Those facing incarceration who have a mental illness need 'treatment instead of punishment,' advocates say

Rose Aguilar has been the host of Your Call since 2006. She became a regular media roundtable guest in 2001. In 2019, the San Francisco Press Club named Your Call the best public affairs program. In 2017, The Nation named it the most valuable local radio show.