Litercurious Book Review

TitleInsane: America’s Criminal Treatment of
Mental Illness 
AuthorAlisa Roth
PublisherBasic Books; 1 edition (April 3, 2018)
FormatKindle, Paperback, Hardback, Audiobook
ASIN / ISBN B074M6FZXQ / 9780465094196


Alisa Roth, a long-time radio and print journalist, has reported on refugees and asylum seekers in the Middle East, Europe and the United States. Her work has appeared on MarketplaceNPRThe World, as well as in The New York TimesThe New York Review of Books and Gastronomica. If you would like to see a C-SPAN interview with the author, you can see it here.


Roth’s expose’ reveals the confluence of factors that combined to create a living nightmare for those suffering from mental illness in the United States of America. She posits that the current system is fundamentally failing. She carefully and sensitively examines the personal experiences of sufferers who as a direct, or indirect result of their illness became involved with law enforcement, and how law enforcement responded. That said, having mental illness should never be a death sentence as is reported on at least one occasion by Roth in Insane.

Roth visits a number of jails and prisons in an attempt to clarify the situation on the ground, and what she discovers reads like something out of a Dickensian novel.

Rather than lambasting those on the front lines. Alisa Roth acknowledges those prison guards and police officers who, with virtually no training, are forced to deal with mental health issues. She documents how ill equipped the penal institutions and personnel are in dealing with the veritable tidal wave of clients who are psychologically disturbed. She examines the effects of underfunding as it relates to the welfare, care and medical treatment of those incarcerated in correctional institutions.


Although the subject matter is dire at times Roth has created a well paced, critical analysis of an often ignored emergency in our society. She does so with respect and dignity for those on both sides of the agenda. Rather than decrying the system, she acknowledges the painful decisions made on a daily basis by the people forced to work and live within that system.

Some years ago, the closure of mental hospitals or insane asylums was heralded as a positive move to empower the sick and free them into society. Sadly, society did not care enough to ensure that there were sufficient resources to adequately support those with psychological illnesses in the community. Many fell through the cracks, and some ended up homeless, confused, lost and desperate. They inevitably ending up within Criminal Justice System.

Insane is a powerful work, well researched by an exceptional journalist and writer. Written with a compassion and sensitivity that is difficult to describe. Insane is one of those books that you just have to read for yourself to fully appreciate the depth and nature of the subject. Clearly written, masterfully researched, and exceptional in every way. I can’t wait to read Alisa Roth’s next offering.

Insane:America’s Criminal Treatment of Mental Illness by Alisa Roth is by far, the best debut offering I have read this year. I would not be surprised to find it on the Pulitzer nomination list.

Rating: 4 out of 5.


I would like to thank Alisa Roth, NetGalley and Basic Books for affording me the opportunity to review Insane: America’s Criminal Treatment of Mental Illness.


RON POWERS is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and New York Times bestselling author. He is the co-author of Flags of our Fathers and True Compass-both #1 New York Times Hardcover Nonfiction bestsellers. His biography of Mark Twain-Mark Twain: A Life-was also a New York Times bestseller. He lives with his wife Honoree Fleming, Ph.D., in Castleton, Vermont.

Dj Jaffe
DJ Jaffe is Executive Director of the independent, non-partisan Mental Illness Policy Org., and author of Insane Consequences: How the Mental Health Industry Fails the Mentally Ill. For over 30 years, he has been advocating to reduce homelessness, arrest, incarceration and needless hospitalization of the most severely mentally ill, a group he believes has been ignored by CMHS, SAMHSA, many mental health advocates and systems, and offloaded to criminal justice.

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