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WFAE/Frontline investigation shows Fracture in North Carolina’s mental health system

Nearly five years ago, John* was arrested for arson and attempted murder. But he’s never seen the inside of a courtroom.

Fractured series logo

Since his arrest, John, who has mental health and intellectual issues, has bounced between jail and the state hospital. He is sent to the state hospital to restore his competency to stand trial. He gets better and is sent back to jail to await trial where he gets worse. He’s now been waiting for more than a year for a bed for his third stay in the hospital.

How many other people are like John — stuck between the criminal justice and mental health systems? No one knows because no one tracks it.

To find out how many others might be in the same situation as John, WFAE and FRONTLINE contacted the courthouse and jail in each of North Carolina’s 100 counties.

The result of this yearlong investigation is a 10-part series called “Fractured.”

“Fractured” looks at how North Carolina’s mental health and criminal justice systems fail the mentally ill.

Individual stories explore one of four themes:

  • Why is getting access to mental health care difficult in North Carolina?
  • How does the system strain hospital emergency rooms and affect everyone who needs emergency care?
  • How does the system impact the jails, the courts and the victims?
  • What are the potential solutions?

The weekly series starts April 18. Listen during “Morning Edition” (M-F 5-9 a.m.) and “All Things Considered (M-F 4-6:30 p.m.) on WFAE.
This joint project is part of FRONTLINE’s Local Journalism Initiative. FRONTLINE helps pay for journalists’ salaries, provides editorial guidance and advice to connect journalism with diverse audiences.

WFAE Investigative Team

Dana Miller Ervin, Greg Collard and Mona Dougani worked on “Fractured.”

Ervin was the lead reporter. In 2021, she produced “The Price We Pay” for WFAE. A series that looked at why Americans are sicker and pay more for health care. She is an award-winning journalist who has worked at “60 Minutes,” CNBC, “CBS This Morning” and “Nightline.”

Collard was “Fractured’s” editor. He is the newsroom’s executive editor and has been at WFAE for 15 years. Before joining WFAE, Collard was news director and executive producer at West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

Dougani was the investigative researcher. She collected data from North Carolina’s courthouses and jails to build a database for the series. Previously, she reported on local issues as part of the Queens University News Service.

*(We're not using his last name to protect his identity)