• Facebook

    500 K / likes

  • Twitter

    1 M / followers

Photographer Captures the Experiences of Mentally Ill Prison Inmates



Due to the evaporation of funding that supports mental health facilities, many prisons across the United States have been given the extra duty of treating those who are mentally ill. These patient-prisoners are often trapped within the systems with no where else to go for better treatment.

Trapped is a project by Minneapolis, Minnesota-based photographer Jenn Ackerman that shares the experiences of these prisoners through gritty black-and-white photographs.

Ackerman spent months shooting the images inside the Correctional Psychiatric Treatment Unit (CPTU) of the Kentucky State Reformatory (KSR) — a medium-security prison for adult men that’s located about 30 miles northeast of Louisville, Kentucky.

It is estimated that within the Kentucky prison system, roughly 25% of prisoners are suffering from a serious mental health issue (e.g. schizophrenia, bipolar). A 2006 study by the US Department of Justice revealed that there are only around 55,000 patients being treated in mental health hospitals, while roughly 555,000 mentally ill people are locked away in the nation’s prison system.

“We are the surrogate mental hospitals now,” Kentucky State Reformatory warden Larry Chandler tells Ackerman.

To take the burden off the state’s prisons, the Kentucky Department of Corrections created the CPTU at KSR in 1998. Since then the unit has grown from 13 beds to 150.

The facility has three wings: patients/inmates in wing C are supervised under a 23-hour lockdown. Wings A and B ar for those who don’t need round-the-clock attention. The goal of the system is to return the mentally ill patients out of CPTU and back into the ordinary prison system — or into the general public if their sentence has been served.


Forced Shower


Cell Entry



Forced Medication



Daily Medication Line

Lock Down


Trapped: Mental Illness in Prison


Delusional Paranoia




Suicide Watch

In Their Minds

A Hand to Hold

Ackerman has also won an Emmy award for this short film created about the project:

You can find the entire collection of photos in “Trapped” on Ackerman’s website. You can also read an article Ackerman wrote for the project here.

(via Jenn Ackerman via PBS)

Image credits: Photographs by Jenn Ackerman and used with permission