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Commentary :: Civil & Human Rights

BTL: U.S. Prison System Requires New Commitment to Treat Mentally Ill Inmates

...Interview with Mike Lawlor, Connecticut state representative, conducted by Between the Lines' Melinda Tuhus.
U.S. Prison System Requires New Commitment to Treat Mentally Ill Inmates

Interview with Mike Lawlor, Connecticut state representative, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

Connecticut was rocked by the suicides of five inmates in a ten-week period from April to June 2004, numbers usually seen in the course of a year. In a system with 18,500 inmates in jails and prisons, the state Department of Corrections has acknowledged that up to 2,500 of those incarcerated are afflicted with serious mental illness.

Each year, 10 million people enter U.S. correction facilities and studies indicate that the incidence of serious mental illness among these individuals is at least three to four times higher than in the general population.

A politically inspired crackdown on quality-of-life offenses such as the possession of narcotics have put many people with mental illness behind bars, hitting hard those dually diagnosed with mental health and substance abuse disorders. Ill-equipped to provide a comprehensive array of services that these individuals need, corrections administrators often see the health of people with mental illness deteriorate further, prompting behavior issues and disciplinary infractions that only prolong their confinement in the criminal justice system.

Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with Connecticut state representative Mike Lawlor, co-chairman of the General Assembly's Judiciary Committee. Lawlor, who also co-chairs the Consensus Project, a national organization that brings together experts in the criminal justice and mental health fields. Lawlor discusses efforts underway to provide better care for mentally ill offenders.

For more information, call the Consensus Project at (212) 482-2320 or visit the group's website at

LISTEN to this week's half-hour program of Between The Lines by clicking on one of the links below:
"Between The Lines" is a half-hour syndicated radio news magazine that each week features a summary of under-reported news stories and interviews with activists and journalists who offer progressive perspectives on international, national and regional political, economic and social issues. Because "Between The Lines" is independent of all publications, media networks or political parties, we are able to bring a diversity of voices to the airwaves generally ignored or marginalized by the major media. For more information on this week's topics and to check out our text archive listing topics and guests presented in previous programs visit:
"Between the Lines," WPKN 89.5 FM's weekly radio news magazine can be heard Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m. ET; Wednesdays at 8 a.m. ET and Saturdays at 2 p.m. ET (Wednesday's show airs at 7:30 a.m. ET during fundraising months of April and October).
For an email subscription of "Between The Lines Weekly Summary" which features a RealAudio link to the week's program for Between The Lines, send an email to btlsummary-subscribe (at)
For an email subscription of "Between The Lines Q&A" which features a RealAudio link and weekly transcript to one of the interviews featured on Between The Lines, send an email to btlqa-subscribe (at)
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(c)2004 Squeaky Wheel Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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