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Crazy in America: The Hidden Tragedy of Our Criminalized Mentally Ill Paperback – May 15, 2007


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (May 15, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786717459
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786717453
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #260,899 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Investigative reporter Pfeiffer takes a critical look at the lack of treatment for the mentally ill that often lands them in prison, where their behavior is misinterpreted and they are vulnerable to abuse by other prisoners. Profiling six such people, Pfeiffer examines the circumstances that led to their incarceration, the inadequacy of plans upon their release, and the strains on their families. Among her subjects is Shayne, a schizophrenic who has been institutionalized since the age of 14 for mental illness and drug addiction and was jailed for a time for stabbing the local sheriff; she eventually blinds herself by plucking out her eyes. Luke, who suffers bipolar disorder, lands in a Texas prison after his behavior escalates into violence and drug abuse. Pfeiffer intersperses her reports of the facts of her subjects' lives with communications from them to their families, highlighting the growing confusion and pleas for help. Pfeiffer puts her subjects in the broader context of the nation's woeful lack of concern for treating the mentally ill. Bush, Vanessa
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

About the Author

Mary Beth Pfeiffer is a Soros Justice Media Fellow who has written articles on prison conditions and the treatment of mentally ill inmates for numerous publications. A journalist for twenty-five years, she has been an investigative writer and editor for the Poughkeepsie Journal for the last decade. Her prison reporting has won her two National Headliners Awards, an Outstanding Achievement Award, a national Council on Crime and Celinquency citation, and six awards from the state Associated Press and state Publishers Association. In 2004 she was awarded a fellowship from the Open Society Institute to research articles on the imprisoned mentally ill.

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Customer Reviews

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First, this book is well written and is a page turner.
Rarely inspired
"Crazy in America: The hidden tragedy of our criminalized mentally ill" gives us the story of six individuals whose stories transcend throughout our prison system.
Amazon Customer
The stories are so tragic and you can't help but feel bad for the situations they have had to go through.
Denise Martin

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on May 11, 2007
Format: Paperback
In 2006, I became interested in our prisons, as Human Rights Watch did a report regarding the use of dogs as a way to extract prisoners from their cells. Iowa was listed one of seven states who used such inhumane practices. As my work continued I became aware of the United States being one of only four nations in the world that lock our children up and throw away the key. It is no surprise that the mentally ill are another hidden tragedy in our prisons.

"Crazy in America: The hidden tragedy of our criminalized mentally ill" gives us the story of six individuals whose stories transcend throughout our prison system. We have taken people who have been diagnosed with mental illness and put them into a prison that seeks punishment rather than help that is desperately needed. Dollars no longer go into Mental Health but into prison systems that lack the necessary tools to help those with mental illness. Instead, our prison system feeds their psychosis by locking those mentally ill in a cell for 23 hours a day for long periods of time.

This is the book we have been waiting for, a book that is not only beautifully written, but gives us a glimpse of our failing, broken, and inadequate prison system. This book is informative and heartbreaking, but above all, it gives grounds to why we MUST fix our shattered prison system.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By John E. Richards on September 28, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Crazy in America: The Hidden Tragedy of Our Criminalized Mentally Ill As a long time staff advocate for the National Alliance on Mental illness (NAMI), I found the book and its multiple story accounts very accurate and heart rendering. For the uninformed, the stories may be so impactful that they will find it hard to understand that a society could mistreat its citizens so badly. Good book.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Pat Jewell on July 13, 2007
Format: Paperback
The author of Crazy in America introduces us to 6 of our brothers and sisters whose lives were devastated by mental illness along with the families that care deeply about them. Three committed suicide while in isolation cells in both jails and prisons. Luke in a Texas jail, Jessica in the New York prison system and Joseph in the California Youth Authority Facility. Two more, Alan and Peter died in separate incidences at the hands of Florida police officers whose very presence exacerbated the symptoms of their illness. The pain and anguish of the five individuals and their families unfolds before your eyes as you read their stories.

The sixth person the author writes about is Shayne, my niece, the focus of my advocacy work and truly a special person and survivor. As I read Shayne's story I grieved for the horror that was unfolding once again before my eyes. The anguish of not being able to stop the crime that landed her in jail and eventually an Iowa prison. The self mutilations of her right eye and two years later her left eye. Six months after blinding herself she dislodged four of her teeth trying to bite off her finger. Visions of this vulnerable and sick woman destroying herself one digit at a time terrified my thoughts as I pleaded and begged for help from whomever would listen. Four months later Shayne tried to bite a whole through her cheek and I wondered if it would ever end. All of these incidences happened while in isolation cells. Shayne has proven, at least to me, that isolation is not treatment. The prison environment was to stressful for her coping skills and she started a downhill slide 1 year into what would be 5 years behind bars.

It is hard to write a review of a book that causes you to feel so much pain and suffering.
Read more ›
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By R.P. on August 28, 2007
Format: Paperback
The heartbreaking stories in this beautifully written book expose what happens to people with psychiatric disabilities who reach the end of the line after not receiving desperately needed mental health care. Meticulously researched and at the same imbued with deep sympathy, Pfeiffer's case studies detail the journeys of six people as they move inexorably toward catastrophe, finding themselves in brutal interactions with the criminal justice system. With the closure of many psychiatric wards and an ensuing lack of decent, appropriate care in the community, our jails and prisons have been delegated as the mental health facilities of our time. They are utterly inadequate to the task. Behind those walls are hundreds of thousands of ill people who cannot adhere to rules. Many are placed in solitary confinement, where they violently injure themselves or commit suicide. Pfeiffer sensitively reveals the effects of this torture on vulnerable individuals with mental illness.

New York State is on the verge of passing a law that greatly restricts the practice of placing people with psychiatric disabilities in solitary confinement, the first state in the country to do so. We must immediately begin to improve mental health care in the community, so that people do not find themselves in jail as a result of untreated symptoms. Pfeiffer spells out this message unambiguously. Her book should be required reading for anyone with any interest in human rights and assigned as a textbook in every medical school.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Jean Basinger on May 22, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
For decades we have been talking about the tragic decision that was made in the 1960's when thousands of mentally ill people were turned out of America's institutions and left with no where to go for basic everyday services and mental health care. In her new book, "Crazy in America," Mary Beth Pfeiffer tells us the heart breaking stories of what happened as a result of that decision. We did not build facilities in our communities to care for these people, we did not train people who were capable of working with them and their families and providing the services they needed. What we did do was build more and more prisons where they were locked up for years, often in isolation and treated like criminals of the worst kind.

Pfeiffer gives us in depth case studies of six people with mental illness and their tragic encounters with the criminal justice system. Only one, Shayne Eagan of Iowa, is still alive. She gouged her eyes out while under care of state. Over and over Pfieffer demonstrates how deadly the use of isolation is, not only for the mentally ill, but also for all human beings. Yet this is the response of choice of those in corrections.

The author gives us her list of 10 things that must be done to address this tragic situation. Reading her book should motivate many of us to contact our legislators and urge them to take the steps that are needed to address this scourge on our land and to personally monitor what is happening regarding mental health services and criminal justice in our own states and communities. If you do nothing else: speak out against the building of more prisons.
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