Criminal justice and mental health issues
There are thousands of jails across the country, and all of them are dealing with a mental health crisis. The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates about 2 million mentally ill people are booked into jails every year. Sheriffs from Florida to Oregon will tell you that they've got people locked up for low-level offenses because there's nowhere else to put them. It's straining local budgets and leading to deaths. But how to report on it? Jails are some of the most opaque institutions in the country, and even when sheriffs and superintendents will talk, the story they have to tell is complex and weaves together criminal justice, social services, politics and science. Reporters who have investigated abuses and deaths of the mentally ill in jails will discuss how to report on and explain this complex problem to readers.
Gary Harki is an investigative reporter at The Virginian-Pilot, where his reporting has focused on the criminal justice system and mental health. He is currently a fellow at Marquette University's O'Brien Fellowship in Public Service Journalism. In 2009, while working at The Charleston Gazette in West Virginia, Harki was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for his investigation into police brutality and corruption.
Meg Kissinger teaches investigative reporting at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She is writing a book on the failures of the mental health system.
I started in September as a regional investigative reporter for GateHouse Media at the Austin American-Statesman. GateHouse Media merged with Gannett shortly after that, so I am now part of the USA TODAY Network. I previously worked at the Victoria Advocate.
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