I’m Speaking Tonight In “Shawshank Prison” About Diversion: Glad Sheriff Kincaid Is Pushing It Too!


(3-23-17) I am honored to be speaking tonight on behalf of the Richland, Ohio chapter of the National Alliance On Mental Illness at the now closed Ohio State Reformatory.

This historic prison was featured in the movie, The Shawshank Redemption, and seems a fitting place to talk about our nation’s need to end the inappropriate incarceration of persons with mental illnesses.

Having a mental disorder should not be a crime, yet American jails and prisons hold more than 365.000 persons whose major crime is that they became sick. More than 2.2 million individuals with mental disorders, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder,  pass through our criminal justice system each year. Nearly all for petty crimes, such a trespassing and theft of a grocery cart, wasting tax dollars that could be better spent on mental health services.

Ohio has been one of the most progressive states in providing mental health care. It is home to my good friend and fellow advocate, retired Supreme Court Justice Evelyn Stratton, as well as, Mark R. Munetz, one of the developers of the sequential intercept model used in jails and prisons, and mental health advocate Dr. Fred Frese.

Despite this, Ohio correctional facilities continue to house five times as many individuals with mental disorders than their hospitals and treatment centers at a cost of $50 million more annually than the price of incarcerating other prisoners.

In the past decade, it often has been courageous judges, jail administrators, police chiefs and sheriffs who have demanded reforms. And I am happy that Fairfax County Sheriff Stacey Kincaid in Virginia has become one of them.

Sheriff Kincaid tossed aside her written speech earlier this week at the Mid-Atlantic Summit on Behavioral Health and Criminal Justice in Washington DC., choosing instead to speak from her heart.

She recounted how she had worked in a jail as a young intern and deputy and had seen first hand “the barbaric way people in jail  with mental illness were being treated.”

She described the Diversion First program that she helped launch last year after the horrific death of Natasha McKenna, a woman with schizophrenia who died from heart failure after being repeatedly stunned by deputies while being removed from her cell.

That death, in particular, turned Sheriff Kincaid into a national advocate for diversion programs.

While budgets are tight, helping people recover is about a different and more important type of capital – Human Capital, she said.

About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.