The Jailhouse 'Revolving Door' for the Mentally Ill


Ashley Overfield first convinced herself she was Lucifer in the spring of 2005. The next day, Overfield shaved her head and made a series of bizarre phone calls, telling people she killed her family and that she had failed her mission to God and sent them to hell.

Her insurance agent, one of the horrified recipients of Overfield's phone calls, called police.

Overfield was diagnosed bipolar with paranoid schizophrenic tendencies at age 19. But the medical care she received has largely been courtesy of Wyoming's correctional system. Now 33, Overfield estimates she's been to jail 14 or 15 times—for misdemeanor offenses often related to substance abuse .

In a lengthy investigation, the Casper (WY) Star-Tribune found that scores of troubled individuals like Overfield have been trapped in a revolving door of incarceration and hospitalization.

The increasing use of jails and prisons as de facto mental health facilities in Wyoming and many other states has not only represented a harrowing experience for individuals, but a costly burden on communities and justice facilities, the paper said.

The investigation by Star-Tribune journalist Megan Cassidy was produced as part of a crime reporting fellowship project sponsored by the John Jay Center for Media, Crime and Justice. Cassidy was a 2013 Reporting Fellow at this year's John Jay/Langeloth Foundation workshop on health care and the corrections system.

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