cover image Waiting for an Echo: The Madness of American Incarceration

Waiting for an Echo: The Madness of American Incarceration

Christine Montross. Penguin Press, $28 (352p) ISBN 978-1-59420-597-2

In this anguished and impeccably researched account, psychiatrist Montross (Falling into the Fire) examines how the American justice system fails to protect, treat, and rehabilitate incarcerated people with mental health issues. Drawing on her experiences conducting competency evaluations for detainees, and visiting numerous prisons around the country, Montross argues that minorities, the impoverished, and the mentally ill are disproportionately targeted for harsher sentences, and that prisoners are too often left to languish in solitary confinement, where sensory deprivation can worsen, or even cause, mental instability. At a juvenile detention center, she learns that teenagers there can be kept for up to a year in solitary—despite studies showing the importance of human contact for the developing brain. Chicago’s Cook County Jail offers a rare glimpse of hope, as Montross sits in on a cognitive behavioral group therapy session where inmates reflect on their pasts in order to process their traumas. In the book’s final section, she offers practical solutions, including changes to the probation and parole systems that would give the formerly incarcerated better resources for getting their lives back on track, and mandatory periodic mental health evaluations for all inmates. This eye-opening call for reform exposes an overlooked crisis in America’s prisons. Agent: Kris Dahl, ICM Partners. (July)

Correction: An earlier version of this review incorrectly stated this was the author's first book. It also misstated that the author met a teenager who had spent a year in solitary confinement at a juvenile detention facility.