An disturbing Frontline documentary being aired tonight on PBS stations, “The New Asylums,” explains that the mentally ill, in the decades after a mass release from mental hospitals, have often wound up in less forgiving confines, reports the New York Times. “It was like being placed in a prison’s prison,” explains Carl McEachron, an inmate whose lapses in medication led to wild outbursts and then to long-term lockdown.
The program asserts that 500,000 mentally ill patients, who in earlier decades would have been treated in hospitals, are now mistreated in prisons. There are a few earnest innovators in the corrections system in Ohio, where officials have devised a routine of warnings and second chances that precede harsher punishment. In their attempts to bring some rationality to the system, the jailers prove that they’re not in the business of diagnosing and healing, and their methods tend to agitate the minds they’re trying to subdue. The show never feels like the problem is being solved nor is its exact origin understood, says the Times review. But it concludes that “Just by venturing into these Stygian cellblocks, however, ‘The New Asylums’ is performing a public service.”