Photo of Sarah Hoffman

Sarah Hoffman

  • Hosted by Disability Rights North Carolina
  • Sponsored by American Tire Distributors
  • Service location Raleigh, North Carolina
  • Law school University of North Carolina School of Law
  • Issue area Disability Rights, Prisoners' Rights
  • Fellowship class year 2021
  • Program Design Your Own Fellowship

The Project

Sarah (she/her/hers) will evaluate North Carolina prisons to ascertain confinement conditions of people with mental illness and recommend a strategy to keep these individuals out of solitary confinement-like conditions.

North Carolina prisons have rates of serious mental illness nearly four times higher than the general population. Prison mental health treatment programs are insufficient to meet mental health needs, and even existing treatment options reportedly go under-utilized. Although solitary confinement harms mental health, people with mental illness are reportedly often placed into these units in violation of state policy. The exacerbation of mental illness in prison remains difficult to halt because advocates and legislators have limited information about what happens behind prison walls. Keeping people with mental illness out of harmful prison conditions requires a comprehensive knowledge of how prisons actually operate.

Sarah was diagnosed with Bipolar I Disorder as a teenager and recovered because she had privileged access to high-quality healthcare. After studying the systematic criminalization of mental illness, she became determined to expand quality care access to marginalized populations, particularly for people in prison who lack agency over care.

Fellowship Plans

Sarah will research and collect data firsthand on the mental health treatment and solitary confinement units in seven North Carolina prisons. She will then use empirical evidence to form recommendations for legal advocacy aimed at improving prison conditions for people with mental illness. Her project will culminate in a report and will give Disability Rights North Carolina a path forward in advocating for reform on these issues. Her findings will also be utilized by partner organizations and the state government.

Media

An Advocate for Mental Health

A person’s opportunity to recover from disease is a human right that should not be impeded by prison walls.

Sarah Hoffman /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

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