Mental Captivity; Bettering the Lives of Inmates with Mental Disorders

Mental Captivity: Bettering the Lives of Inmates with Mental Disorders


Dola Sun illustration


This project is a requirement of the GOA Abnormal Psychology Course. Using the process of design thinking, a challenge in the world of mental health was identified, interviews and research were undertaken, and a solution prototype was developed. Below you will find information about the identified area of concern and my proposed solution. Please feel free to provide feedback on this prototype, using questions such as “How might we…”, “What if….?”, “I wonder….”, “I like…”, and “I wish.” Keep the comments positive, please. For more information on the process of Design Thinking, click here.


The Story of Adam Hall

Dola Sun illustration

Adam Hall was always different from his peers. He tended to keep to himself and avoided interacting with others. It was no surprise to Adam’s parents when he attempted to burn down their house at the age of five. From there, Adam continued to show signs of mental disorders but they were never addressed or treated. Subsequently, Adam was arrested as a teenager and immediately transferred to solitary confinement. When he was 22, Adam was convicted of a major felony and placed in a jail for individuals with mental health disorders. Desperate and alone, Hall decided to commit suicide the only way he knew how: he tried to burn down his cell. In response to this act of desperation, Hall was taken to court and sentenced to 25 years in jail for arson. Currently, Hall is still in jail where he is unable to contact anyone from the outside due to extreme debt. No one knows whether he is alive or dead. No one cares.

Why does this matter?

Dola Sun illustration

Why does this matter? Adam Hall’s story is the narrative for many inmates in jails. There is a growing rate of suicide and depression in jails that can only be attributed to poor therapies for inmates. Furthermore, many inmates are placed in solitary confinement which is similar to being placed in a box that lets in no light and lacks social interactions. With a ruthless incarceration system that does not accommodate individuals with mental disorders, we are creating an inhumane and cruel environment. The entirety of this page is dedicated to educating individuals about therapies in jail and how we have the power to demand change.


There is a growing rate of suicides in prisons and jails that are directly related to the growing number of individuals with mental disorders in the United States. A startling article issued by the NCIA noted that there is 1 psychiatric bed for every 3,000 individuals. The graph above shows how growing suicide in jails can be attributed to the individuals that are not receiving proper treatment for their mental illnesses. In 2014 alone, there were 3,927 inmate deaths and 7% of these deaths were due to suicide. Furthermore, 16.7% of inmates in prisons have major mental disorders like schizophrenia.

The Journey to My Topic

I am an avid advocate for social justice. After hearing speakers like Bryan Stephenson talk about their experiences with the prison system, I have grown an affinity towards the incarceration system and all of its flaws. My abnormal psychology course has helped me discover another facet of the incarceration system that needs to be addressed: mental health. If we continue treating inmates as lesser parts of society, we will not be able to progress as a society. Through doing this project I have outlined multiple overlapping themes that I believe are the biggest challenges that many inmates with mental disorders face. I hope that this page deepens your empathy for individuals with mental disorders. Below is a short video that I think perfectly encapsulates life in jail for many inmates. This video focuses on a prison designated for individuals with mental disorders.



Illustration by Dola Sun

There are two main challenges that inmates with mental disorders face when placed in jail. The first one is the common stigma associated with individuals with mental health disorders. In an interview with psychologist Michelle Cowherd, who works for the Fairfax Government of Virginia and in the Jail Diversion Program I was able to learn more about therapies in prisons. Having worked in multiple states in the United States, Cowherd was able to provide a lot of insight into my topic. In our interview, Cowherd stated that “many inmates with mental disorders are commonly placed in jails due to the public’s lack of knowledge concerning the difference between a manic and criminal episode.  As a result, they are sent to a jail that does not treat or address these mental illnesses. My role is to alert local government about these issues”. In addition to this statement, Michelle Cowherd also addressed the varying treatments of inmates she has observed through her extensive time as a psychologist. From our conversation together, it became clear that there are many present flaws and issues in the incarceration system that are gradually being addressed by people like Cowherd.

The second challenge is that many inmates are not offered proper therapies and treatments for their mental disorders. This is what leads many of them to be placed in solitary confinement which has deleterious effects on their overall well-being. In a Washington Post article, Jeffery Beard addresses this conflict when he says, “As a society, we could do a better job dealing with the mentally ill – both in keeping people from coming to prison and how they do when they get out of prison”. Beard perfectly poses the challenge that many individuals in society have. Many people in the United States are not very knowledgeable about mental disorders which is why there are growing numbers of people with mental disorders being wrongly convicted and mistreated.

Who is being Disadvantaged?

The easy answer would be that only inmates with mental disorders are being disadvantaged. The truth is that this issue affects everyone. We are a need-based society that values and treasures different abilities. If we continue to send people to jail who have the potential to positively impact society, then we are ultimately hurting ourselves. In order to grow, we have to ensure that lives are being preserved instead of being wasted away in jails. We cannot continue to avoid this issue because it is scary to talk about and sometimes hard to learn more about. A change needs to be made and we have the tools and resources to bring about this change.


Dola Sun Illustration

The most simple solution is to have more therapies for inmates in jail that encourage and prepare them for life after jail

We need to educate society about mental disorders and how to prevent individuals from mental disorders from going to jail

We need to end solitary confinement and find more conducive ways to protect inmates


My next step is to take this topic and my presentation and use it to educate my school. I want our community to be more cognizant of mental illnesses and understand that it is a prevalent issue. I also want to reach as many GOA students as possible so that you guys can spread the word about my topic.

What You Can Do To Help

I know it’s hard to start making a change so here are some ideas that I formulated that many of us will be able to access and bring to life

  • Create infographics and spread them around your school and community
  • Encourage your school to emphasize the importance of mental health by writing them a letter or sharing them this page
  • Bring up this topic in common conversation because even just talking about the issue will help bring change

Below is a survey where I will be asking for your feedback about my presentation. I hope you take the time to voice any changes I can make to better this topic. Furthermore, I hope that this topic has deepened your empathy towards inmates and encouraged you to make a change in your community.



“Access to Mental Health Care and Incarceration.” Mental Health America, 14 Nov. 2017,
Baillargeon, Jacques, et al. “Psychiatric Disorders and Suicide in the Nation’s Largest State Prison System.” Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law Online, 1 June 2009,
Chammah, Maurice, and Tom Meagher. “Why Jails Have More Suicides than Prisons.” The Marshall Project, 16 Nov. 2016,
Dougherty, Catherine. “Mentally Ill Inmate Suicide Rates Up.” NCIA, 23 May 2010,
Grinberg, Emanuella. “Prison Suicides Are on the Rise Nationally and It’s Pretty Bad in Massachusetts.” CNN, Cable News Network, 20 Apr. 2017,
Ridgeway, James, and Jean Casella. “Criminalizing Mental Illness: The Story of Adam Hall.” Solitary Watch, 17 Oct. 2015,
Sniffen, Michael J. “Prisons Lacking Mental Health Treatment.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 7 Sept. 2006,


Share this project
  1. April 26, 2018 by Trinity.Rollins

    This is a super informative project – nicely done! I think that the one thing you could improve is showing some alternative prison models – I know that in Northern Europe there are much different prison structures from the US that focus on rehabilitation instead of punishment. For example – Here’s a CNN report about one in Norway in which prisoners are allowed regular freedoms of life and have a very high rehabilitation rate ( ) This would make the ending to your presentation a bit more optimistic in showing that there’s a way to fix the prison system. Good work!

    • April 27, 2018 by Morinsola.Tinubu

      Hey Trinity! Thank you for the feedback I will definitely check this video out and I definitely agree that it would be nice to end on a positive note. 🙂

  2. April 29, 2018 by Harry Shi

    This is an outstanding project. I really like the way you discuss the lack of proper treatments for inmates with mental disorders. How can we reduce the social stigma that accompanies with incarceration?

    • April 29, 2018 by Morinsola.Tinubu

      Hey, Harry thanks for the positive comment :). I believe that the only way that we can end that stigmas associated with incarceration are by talking more about the issue casually and spreading awareness. I believe that this will deepen people’s empathy for inmates because people will understand the mistreatment that they face constantly.

  3. April 30, 2018 by Esther

    Love that you connected the class to Just Mercy; I can read the same spirit of human empathy and desire for justice in your project!

    • April 30, 2018 by Morinsola.Tinubu

      Thanks for visiting the site Esther and I am glad you liked it 🙂

  4. April 30, 2018 by leilani.ahina

    I agree with the earlier comment – this is an outstanding project. WHat a great example of pouring your passion for this topic into this presentation – and the results are logical (meaningful, compelling, important). The next steps, to broaden awareness, are challenging for sure, but this is an excellent start.

    • April 30, 2018 by Morinsola.Tinubu

      Thank you! I really appreciate the positive comments and am excited to deepen my research and continue spreading awareness about this topic.

  5. May 01, 2018 by Jenny

    I’m impressed with your in-depth review and analysis on this topic. However, it would be nice to broaden your scope and research on alternative proven therapies that have worked elsewhere. Perhaps these therapies could be introduced in our jail systems in the US.

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