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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Inside The Nation's Largest Mental Institution

Prison_200 Morning Edition, August 14, 2008 · The largest mental institution in the country is actually a wing of a county jail. Known as Twin Towers, because of the design, the facility houses 1,400 mentally ill patients in one of its two identical hulking structures in downtown Los Angeles.

On a recent morning, we took a visit to the floor devoted to the "sickest of the sick." As we arrived, a dozen deputies were working to restrain a patient and inject him with an anti-psychotic drug. The entire ordeal was videotaped — to protect the patient as well as the deputies. It was the first hint at the complexities that emerge from creating a mental hospital inside a jail.

The End Of Public Mental Hospitals

Until the 1970s, the mentally ill were usually treated in public psychiatric hospitals, more commonly known as insane asylums.

Then, a social movement aimed at freeing patients from big, overcrowded and often squalid state hospitals succeeded. Rather than leading to quality treatment in small, community settings, however, it often resulted in no treatment at all.

As a consequence, thousands of mentally ill ended up on the streets, where they became involved in criminal activity. Their crimes, though frequently minor, led them in droves to jails such as Twin Towers, says Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca.

"Incarcerating the mentally ill is not the right thing to do," he says.

But if they are housed in Twin Towers, Baca says he is determined to make sure they are treated for illness. [Mark Godsey]

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