Chris Uggen's Blog: bernard harcourt's <i>times</i> op-ed

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

bernard harcourt's times op-ed

bernard harcourt, my gracious host on a recent visit to chicago law, offered a provocative op-ed in the times this week. shouldn't sociological criminologists be able to offer some explanation for the figure at left, showing the aggregate rate of institutionalization for prisons and mental hospitals? in my opinion, the questions posed by professor harcourt might also make for some outstanding dissertations:

Why did we diagnose deviance in such radically different ways over the course of the 20th century? Do we need to be imprisoning at such high rates, or were we right, 50 years ago, to hospitalize instead? Why were so many women hospitalized? Why have they been replaced by young black men? Have both prisons and mental hospitals included large numbers of unnecessarily incarcerated individuals?


At 1:36 AM, Blogger jeremy said...

Yes, I thought that was a truly striking graph as well.

At 9:05 AM, Blogger Mike W. said...

It's tempting for me to look at such a chart and chalk it up to the "Martinson Effect on Public Policy." I find it interesting, but my cynicism doesn't really regard it as all that surprising.

I was too young to recall how the system of mental institutions was broken down during the Reagan administrations, but I can't help but think that plays a large factor in it.

I don't necessarily think it's that simple, however, and there are surely ways of breaking down those charts in ways to find out what proportion of each group is being 'rerouted' away from the mental institution to the prison.

At 11:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you're interested in this topic, you should look at the PBS Frontline Special "The New Asylums." at

In MN, about 25% of persons in state prisons are severely mentally ill. In local jails the numbers are smaller, maybe under 10%.

This is complicated by the fact that many of these offenders are using or addicted to drugs and alcohol. Essentially if they are MI, they are dual-diagnosis (MI/CD).

...and we haven't even talked about TBI or developmentally delayed.

We do need a range of treatment (community, secure psych and prison) for a range of persons. Prisons are just easier to fund.


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