Pete Earley, a best-selling author and Nobel Prize finalist, will present a lecture at 1 p.m. Tuesday, September 25 in the Cayuga Community College Irene A. Bisgove Community Theatre, 197 Franklin St., Auburn.
An investigative reporter for 14 years, Earley was accustomed to observing, investigating, and writing about situations and events, as he puts it, “from the outside looking in.” When his son was diagnosed with a serious mental illness, suddenly he was dealing with America’s mental health and criminal justice systems from the inside. What he learned was disturbing.
In his book, Crazy: A Father’s Search through America’s Mental Health Madness, Earley tells the story of his son, Mike, and the many ways the system failed him. He also tells about his year-long investigation of the Miami-Dade County Jail and the lives of mentally ill inmates after their release. “Our nation’s jails and prisons have become our new mental asylums,” he said.
A nationally-recognized authority on issues involving persons with mental illness and their experiences with the criminal justice system, he speaks all over the country, passionately advocating for better options in treating and housing these individuals.
Theresa Misiaszek, professor in CCC’s Criminal Justice department and advisor to the Criminal Justice Club at the Auburn Campus, said that the situation is being addressed locally through Behavioral Health Courts. Attempting to “correct without incarcerating,” people are encouraged, under court supervision, to change their behaviors and stay on any prescribed medications. In this way, the system is working to be “proactive instead of reactive.” Auburn City Court Judge Michael McKeon, who oversees the Behavioral Health Court, believes this option has definitely benefited the community.
According to Bart Wasilenko, a Cayuga adjunct professor and local representative of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), more can be done. “NAMI of Cayuga County would like to see the training and implementation of C.I.T. (Crisis Intervention Team Training) made available to the local law enforcement agencies,” he said. “C.I.T. has shown to be effective in keeping people with mental illnesses out of jail, and getting them into treatment.”
The event is co-sponsored by the College Criminal Justice Club and NAMI of Cayuga County, along with Welch Allyn and Inn at the Finger Lakes. It is part of an ongoing effort to educate students and the public, and raise awareness of the complex problems surrounding this issue. Tickets are $5 and are available at Downtown Books and Coffee in Auburn, as well as by contacting NAMI of Cayuga County at 315-255-7443. Cayuga students can attend for free with their student I.D.