Madness Radio: Daniel Hazen On Abolishing Prisons


First Aired 5-1-2012

What is it like for a prisoner diagnosed with mental illness? Should we have more mental health treatment in prison — or should we work to abolish our prison system? Daniel Hazen spent three years in prison and experienced firsthand the ways prison creates madness. Today he is director of Voices of the Heart, a leading support agency run by and for people in recovery from
a diagnosis of mental illness. http://www.voicesofthehearYou can listen to the whole interview on the latest episode of Madness Radio:


Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion‚ÄĒbroadly speaking‚ÄĒof psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


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    • Anonymous,

      Thanks for the link. You are always a source of much pertinent information. Great rehab heh? We’re a sick society and instead of dealing with our illnesses, we lock up anyone who reminds us that we’re sick and then we punish them, either in prison or in so called “hospitals.” How did we ever get to this point? Thanks again.

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  1. Many European countries legalized durgs a long time ago, probably because they’re not into trying to direct the morality of their citizens like some Christian/political groups here in the United States are determined to do. They don’t have the crime in their cities like we do either. I’m sondering if there is some connection here.

    The state hospital where I work is becoming a “prison” hospital. We have four forensic units but now the numbers of people coming from the legal system is so great that we’re spreading the forensic patients across the acute units. I work in Admissions and 7 or 8 of every ten patients admitted are forensic or 911. I believe that this points to a great problem within both the prison and the so-called mental health systems, but no one at my hospital wants to address any of the issues surrounding this. Like the proverbial ostrichs, everyone is burying their heads in the sand and telling anyone who raises the questions to be quiet. It’s not only frustrating it’s disgusting and horrible. Where will all of this stop?

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  2. I just got a book called, Mr Nice, the autobiography of Howard Marks, a UK drug smuggler. The first chapter is set in USA goals. It was a disgusting read, detailing a dehumanising system.

    In contrast I read an article on a Norwegian goal with a heavy emphasis on rehabilitation.

    The UK system seems to be about half way between the two.

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    • Here in America we’re not into rehab, we’re into punishing people. It only gets worse as we go to prisons being owned and run by private companies whose only concern is the might dollar. Over the past few years, what programs that were in place in prisons for rehab have been done away with and totally dismantled. And our prisons are filled with people of color, African Americans and Hispanics (although Hispanics are not really people of color that’s the way they’re perceived in America, especially in the South). America imprisons more people than any other country in the entire world. The prison system needs to be totally overhauled but I’m so overwhelmed by it all that I don’t know what I can do about it and I don’t know where to start.

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  3. I found this woman’s work to be an example of what prison / “correctional” facilities are meant to be:

    Kiran Bedi managed one of India’s toughest prisons — and used a new focus on prevention and education to turn it into a center of learning and meditation. She shares her thoughts on crime and punishment from the stage at TEDWomen.
    Link ID: Kiran Bedi: How I remade one of India’s toughest prisons

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  4. There’s a quote at the end of the New Yorker article by Adam Gopnik that I think provides a thought-provoking perspective on choosing a strategy to counter human rights abuses in the psychiatric (and prison) system(s). Should we aim for a series of small reforms, perhaps engaging mainstream psychiatrists to make the system less bad without dismantling it completely? Or do we focus on large-scale systemic reforms, like the deinstitutionalization that happened in the early 1970s?

    “The truth is, a series of small actions and events ended up eliminating a problem that seemed to hang over everything. There was no miracle cure, just the intercession of a thousand smaller sanities. Ending sentencing for drug misdemeanors, decriminalizing marijuana, leaving judges free to use common sense (and, where possible, getting judges who are judges rather than politicians)‚ÄĒmany small acts are possible that will help end the epidemic of imprisonment as they helped end the plague of crime.

    …every society has a poor storm that wretches suffer in, and the attitude is always the same: either that the wretches, already dehumanized by their suffering, deserve no pity or that the oppressed, overwhelmed by injustice, will have to wait for a better world. At every moment, the injustice seems inseparable from the community‚Äôs life, and in every case the arguments for keeping the system in place were that you would have to revolutionize the entire social order to change it‚ÄĒwhich then became the argument for revolutionizing the entire social order. In every case, humanity and common sense made the insoluble problem just get up and go away.”

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