Photos by Jenn Ackerman for Photolucida's Critical Mass 2009
TRAPPED: Mental Illness in America's Prisons. “We (prisons) are the surrogate mental hospitals now,” says Larry Chandler, warden at the Kentucky State Reformatory. Unfortunately, this situation is not unique to Kentucky. The continuous withdrawal of mental health funding has turned jails and prisons across the U.S. into the default mental health facilities. The system designed for security is now trapped with treating mental illness and the mentally ill are often trapped inside the system with nowhere else to go. According to the 2006 report by the U.S. Department of Justice, the number of Americans with a mental illness incarcerated in the nation’s prisons and jails is disproportionately high. Almost 555,000 people with mental illness are incarcerated while fewer than 55,000 are being treated in designated mental health hospitals. Trapped goes inside the Correctional Psychiatric Treatment Unit at the Kentucky State Reformatory. It portrays the daily struggle inside the walls of the unit redesigned to treat mental illness and maintain the level of security required in a prison. It takes viewers into an institution where the criminally insane are sometimes locked up in their cells for 23 hours a day with nothing to occupy their minds but their own demons. My intention was to make the viewer feel what I felt when I was inside the prison. There were days that I was extremely scared and others that I left thinking how much someone on the outside missed them. Some days, I had to remind myself that many of these men had done heinous things. I saw them cry. I saw them hit themselves so hard in the head that they bled. I saw them throw their feces at the officers. I saw a world most people don’t even know exists in America. “They are rejects of society and warehousing them in prison isn’t the way to go,” says Dr. Tanya Young, program director at CPTU. “Most of them don’t have life sentences and they will get out some day.”
The photo series was a it hard for me to look at but, there is an important message and a sense of compassion about them. I just can't ignored them; it will be cruel and inhumane. Photography is supposed to show the good , the bad , the pretty and sometimes the ugly.
New York, NY