Partner Spotlight: Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

August 12, 2015
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Photo by Huw Williams

IUPUI Public History and Museum Studies students will focus on the intersections of mass incarceration and mental health. Our main partner in this project is the Indiana Medical History Museum which is housed in the Old Pathology Building on the grounds of the Central State Hospital (formerly the Central Indiana Hospital for the Insane), which operated  from 1848 until its closing in 1994.

Students and community partners will explore several historical moments which reveal the complex relationship between mental health and mass incarceration. The first such moment is the early nineteenth century, when Indiana, like many other cities and states, built new institutions to confine people: prisons and asylums for the “insane.” The next moment is the long period between the 1950s and 1990s, when state-run mental health care facilities closed, with the hope that communities would help care for those with severe mental illnesses. The final historical moment is the late twentieth century to the present. Due to policies promoting mass incarceration and an inadequate mental health care system, there are more people with mental illnesses in prisons and jails than in mental health care facilities. Throughout the project we will ask several interrelated questions.  Who is a criminal and what are criminal actions? How have our ideas about mental illness and responsibility for criminal actions changed over time?  What do these spaces of confinement reveal about how societies view about people who are considered “criminal” or “mentally ill”?  What happens when people with severe mental illnesses are incarcerated instead of having their health care needs met? How does the stigma surrounding mental illness hinder activism around these issues?


Elizabeth Kryder-Reid, Professor of Anthropology and Museum Studies; Director, Cultural Heritage Research Center

Modupe Labode, Associate Professor of History and Museum Studies