Insane: – Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★★☆   (4.5 / 5 stars)
Audio Book Performance: ★★★★☆ (4 / 5 Stars)

 America’s relationship with mental illness has been a long and tenuous affair. With a history of underfunded and abusive asylums – depicted in such fictional stories as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – we have since transitioned out of these institutions to ones hidden in the shadows of society. The mentally ill have become a product of the American Prison system, and without proper funding and resources, many of these convicts are stuck a system that keeps them incarcerated for most of their lives. 

In a harrowing, but equally fascinating, examination of the American Mental Health system, Insane delves in the systematic epidemic that has been created from the country’s inability to take care of its most vulnerable. Individuals, most male and female alike, are stuck in a chain of psychosis, incompetency, and confusion that consistently sends them back into the system. It is horrifying to think that the inability to get help when and individual needs it most could turn them into a felon. 

But this isn’t just a story of the incarcerated, but also the officers who are transformed into these mental health professionals. Individuals never trained to be counselors or to respond to incidents involving psychosis or schizophrenia, are often put onto the front line. While this book was written before the “Defund the Police” movement that came out of “Black Lives Matter”, this book shows the exact problem with the current allocation of funds. With so many calls made about mentally ill individuals who pose a societal danger, police officers aren’t the ones who should be responding. Unfortunately, in most cases they are, and this leads to unfortunate and untimely deaths – especially in the black male population.

I saw this book when it first came out in 2019, and am so glad I had a chance to listen to it as an audiobook. While some parts dragged a bit – as nonfiction sometimes does – from start to finish I was intrigued and horrified by the treatment of these individuals. While some certainly committed crimes that cannot be judged by mental illness, for someone to end up in the prison system for years due to repetitive misdemeanors that could be solved given the proper care is unimaginable! 

Alisa Roth approaches this examination of mental illness with care and social awareness. She speaks on how more women are impacted by this than men in prison, but due to how more men are incarcerated, more of her case studies belonged to those of men. She interviewed from all sides of the system. In addition, in true journalistic fashion, she is clear when answers weren’t provided. 

Overall, Insane has been an eye opening discussion. This is one I definitely recommend! 

What’s it about?

An urgent expose of the mental health crisis in our courts, jails, and prisons.

America has made mental illness a crime. Jails in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago each house more people with mental illnesses than any hospital. As many as half of all people in America’s jails and prisons have a psychiatric disorder. One in four fatal police shootings involves a person with such disorders.

In this revelatory book, journalist Alisa Roth goes deep inside the criminal justice system to tell how and why it has become a warehouse where inmates are denied proper treatment, abused, and punished in ways that make them sicker. Through intimate stories of people in the system and those trying to fix it, Roth reveals the hidden forces behind this crisis and suggests how a fairer and more humane approach might look. Insane is a galvanizing wake-up call for criminal justice reformers and anyone concerned about the plight of our most vulnerable.

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