Waiting for an Echo: The Madness of American Incarceration

July 16, 2020

Today I listened to another moving and informative interview on Fresh Air conducted by Dave Davies.  Mr. Davies interviewed Christine Montross who is the author of a newly published book called Waiting for an Echo: The Madness of American Incarceration. Ms. Montross is a psychiatrist by training and she became very interested in what happened to her patients when they were arrested. This led her to an in depth exploration of how police, the courts, jails, and prisons deal with people who are mentally ill. In order to understand better what happens to mentally ill people when they become wrapped up in the criminal justice system, Ms. Montross became a court appointed psychiatrist to determine whether those arrested were fit to stand trial and if found guilty to be placed in prison.  

Ms. Montross quickly found out that incarceration makes people with mental illness functionally worse off. Working in the prisons, she witnessed how all inmates are treated with disrespect and brutalized especially by being placed in solitary confinement. She testifies how the food is made deliberately disgusting for people being held in solitary. Prisons, she says is place where everyone experiences dehumanization, both staff and inmates.  

The best part of her interview is that she took time to explore and report on prisons which operate totally differently. She was able to investigate in person how Norway changed its prison system from being basically like the U.S. model into something totally different and humane. In Norway, inmates have their own rooms which they can lock. They have access to kitchens so that they can prepare their own meals for themselves and others. In Norway hardly anyone is put into solitary and if they are placed in isolation it is only for a day or two, no more than several days. In Norway prisons are founded on human rights and on the idea that everyone, no matter what he or she has done, deserves respect.  

Ms. Montross' eloquent testimony supports all of IAHR's efforts to change the values by which we in this country incarcerate people who have been convicted of crimes. I just ordered the book and I urge you to do so as well.   


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