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2012 News Releases

Mental health reform advocate to speak at Longwood

February 29, 2012

Pete Earley

Pete Earley, an author and former journalist who became an outspoken advocate for mental health reform after his son was declared mentally ill, will speak Monday, March 19, at 7 p.m. in Longwood University's Blackwell Ballroom. His topic is "Our New Mental Asylums: Jails and Prisons."        

"Mr. Earley will discuss the growing but often-ignored problem in the correctional and mental health care systems in which jails and prisons are becoming the new mental asylums," said Dr. Laura Agnich, assistant professor of criminal justice, who is organizing his visit. "The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that some 400,000 of the inmates in jails and prisons - more than one-sixth of those in correctional facilities - suffer from mental illnesses that far too often go untreated. This is a serious problem."

Earley's book Crazy: A Father's Search Through America's Mental Health Madness, a 2007 Pulitzer Prize finalist, chronicles the events surrounding the diagnosis and treatment of his son, Mike, who has bipolar disorder. The father's crusade began after his son, who'd been diagnosed the previous year but had quit taking his medication, was arrested for breaking into a stranger's house where he took a bubble bath and vandalized the home.

"Pete Earley was thrown headlong into the maze of contradictions, disparities and Catch-22s that is America's mental health system" says an account of the book. "The more Earley dug, the more he uncovered the bigger picture: Our nation's prisons have become our new mental hospitals...The (book) is both a remarkable piece of investigative journalism and a wake-up call."

After a year-long investigation of the Miami-Dade County jail where he was given unrestricted access, and the other events recounted in the book, Earley joined the National Alliance of Mental Illness to publicly advocate for serious mental health reform. "In his speeches across the United States and worldwide, Mr. Earley sheds light on troubled mental health systems and the serious lack of support for the mentally ill in the United States," Agnich said.

Early is the author of 10 nonfiction books and three novels. Another nonfiction book, The Hot House, which exposed the harsh realities of life inside Leavenworth Prison, was a 1992 New York Times bestseller. He ended a 14-year career in journalism, which included six years at The Washington Post, to become a full-time author.

Earley's appearance is sponsored by the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminal Justice; the Department of Psychology; and the Cook-Cole College of Arts and Sciences.