Fault Lines. [2009-09-17], America's Forgotten Patients

Moving Image
Created: 2009


Fault Lines. [2009-09-17], America's Forgotten Patients
Summary: "During the summer of 2009, one U.S. story was dominating the media -- a vicious partisan row over President Barack Obama's proposed health care reform. Al Jazeera's 'Fault Lines' wanted to find out if the proposed plans would benefit those who were least able to take care of themselves -- the severely mentally ill. Mental illness has been conspicuously absent from the health care debate.

"Once we started researching the topic, we found the statistics to be both shocking, and grim: just 40 thousand Americans currently reside in psychiatric hospitals, 1.25 million mentally ill are serving time in U.S. jails and prisons - more than half the US prison population. On a story like this, access is everything, and in the United States, the difficulty in gaining entry to jails or prisons is compounded by the fact that the Al Jazeera name is in most cases viewed with suspicion and sometimes hostility.

"The process of gaining access to a prison to show the extent of the problem took several months. Hundreds of calls and requests were put in to facilities across the country. Finally, we were cleared to film at the Harris County Jail in Houston, Texas. With more than 10,000 inmates, it is the 4th largest jail in the United States. When some local politicians and conservative groups got word that Al Jazeera would be touring the facility, it created a media storm. Radio shows and blogs called for the Sheriff to resign for allowing our team to tour the jail. We risked becoming part of the story and were concerned that our access was in jeopardy. Fortunately, we were given several hours inside the facility with exceptional opportunities to film and interview inmates and staff, a rare chance to shed some light into an under reported corner of U.S. society.

"When it came to Texas' state run prisons, we were initially denied access to any of the 112 institutions and the 150,000 inmates housed there. Even when we were eventually able to confirm an interview with a specific inmate, we were told that 'interviews with offenders who are diagnosed with psychiatric disorders are prohibited.' This actually put the state at severe risk for discriminating against those with mental illness. At our request, staff members for several state politicians lobbied the Texas Department of Criminal Justice on our behalf. On the day of the requested interview, after weeks of haggling, we received a call on the way to the airport. We would be granted last minute access to interview this inmate but nothing more.

"People with severe mental illness often have a hard time communicating for themselves, forcing family members and caretakers to make difficult decisions about who they can trust to tell their stories with care. We worked closely with both to ensure that trust wasn't broken.

"In the end, it's our belief that we produced a current affairs film which informed our viewers about a pressing and practically unreported issue that affects over a million people who have no voice, and which exposed a systematic failure in the richest country on earth.

"We sincerely hope that our film will help make America's forgotten patients at least a little less 'forgotten'."--2009 Peabody Awards entry form.

Corporate Producers: Al Jazeera English Television

Persons Appearing: Josh Rushing

Broadcast Date: 2009-09-17