Philippe Bourgois, University of California, Los Angeles
Title: Mass Incarceration and Mental Illness in the United States: The Case of the Los Angeles County Jail
Abstract: Unfortunately, the provocative 1939 “Penrose Hypothesis” of an inverse relationship between a society’s mental health infrastructure for care and their carceral facilities holds true. The United States has become a caricatural case of cruel, expensive mismanagement/repression of individuals on the psychosis spectrum. Drawing on historical data and too many years of participant observation ethnographic fieldwork on inner-city streets among people who use and/or sell drugs and cycle chronically through carceral facilities (1980s-present), I will trace the specific policies and structural political economic forces (predatory accumulation) that have turned the Los Angeles County Jail into the world's largest de facto psychiatric facility. “Liberal California” has led the United States mental health centralized lock-down despite its political rhetoric of civil liberties--and, most recently, its sprawl of alternatives to incarceration initiatives. Support for this dysfunctional outcome that “nobody wants” is (literally) cemented through a sprawling sector of high-cost predatory special interest groups from mental health, correctional, juridical, and law enforcement bureaucracies to pharmaceutical, institutional catering/telecommunications and security services industries.