April 1, 2024

A ‘Fractured’ System: FRONTLINE, WFAE & Firelight Media Investigate Long Waits for Mental Health Care by Defendants in North Carolina Deemed Too Sick to Stand Trial

The documentary was produced as part of FRONTLINE’s Local Journalism Initiative and the FRONTLINE/Firelight Media Investigative Journalism Fellowship

Digital Exclusive Premiere: Mar. 5, 2024, at 4 p.m. EST, the PBS App, YouTube & the PBS Documentaries Prime Video Channel
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In recent years, the U.S. has been experiencing what’s been called a mental health crisis. Fractured, a new documentary available for streaming starting Mar. 5, examines how that crisis is playing out within the criminal justice system in North Carolina, a state where it’s been harder to access mental health care than in most others.

From FRONTLINE (PBS)’s Local Journalism Initiative, the Charlotte, North Carolina NPR station WFAE, and Firelight Media, Fractured probes the stories of defendants with serious mental illness in North Carolina jails who are too sick to stand trial.

“We’ve found that these defendants may wait months in jail, sometimes more than a year, for the treatment they need to be deemed well enough to go to court,” says Fractured correspondent, writer and producer Dana Miller Ervin. “In some cases, these defendants can get sicker while they wait for admission to a state hospital.”

Ervin has been investigating access to mental health care in North Carolina for WFAE for the past two years with the support of FRONTLINE’s Local Journalism Initiative. The initiative is an innovative effort to support and strengthen investigative reporting in communities around the country. It launched in 2019 with funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and is based in FRONTLINE’s newsroom at GBH in Boston.

Through the stories of inmates living with serious mental illness, Fractured shows how long waits for care affect not only these defendants, but also the criminal justice system itself. The film includes interviews with lawyers and state health and jail officials — including a deputy sheriff whose own nephew has been deemed incompetent to stand trial and been jailed for more than a year while waiting for access to a psychiatric hospital bed.

Building on an in-depth radio and digital series, which was released in 2023 by WFAE and FRONTLINE and recently named a Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting semi-finalist, Fractured is directed by Débora Souza Silva, a 2023 recipient of the FRONTLINE/Firelight Media Investigative Journalism Fellowship. The fellowship was created to support independent filmmakers of color interested in journalistic documentary filmmaking about underreported issues in the United States.

“As a character-driven portrait of a defendant living with serious mental illness, this documentary is an invitation for viewers to connect with this issue on a personal level,” Silva says. “I hope this film will help raise awareness of systemic challenges in addressing mental health in the criminal justice system.”

“Over the past five years, our FRONTLINE/Firelight fellows have produced documentaries that pull back the curtain on critical issues impacting underserved communities across the country, and our Local Journalism Initiative partners have done remarkable reporting on everything from policing to lead poisoning,” says FRONTLINE Editor-in-Chief and Executive Producer Raney Aronson-Rath. “We are proud to work with Firelight and WFAE on Fractured, the latest chapter of both of these collaborations.”

“Firelight Media is proud to continue our support for Débora Souza Silva through the FRONTLINE/Firelight Fellowship after supporting her documentary feature debut, Black Mothers Love & Resist, through our Documentary Lab,” said Firelight Media Co-Founder and Lead Mentor Stanley Nelson. “Débora is exactly the kind of filmmaker we had in mind when launching this fellowship: she is a talented visual storyteller with a strong commitment to journalistic principles. We are grateful to our partners at FRONTLINE for promoting this vital and timely story about the intersection of the mental health crisis and the criminal justice system.”

“This film is the culmination of reporting that exposes how some of the most vulnerable members of our community — those living with mental illness — fall through the cracks of North Carolina’s mental health and criminal justice systems,” says Ju-Don Marshall, President & CEO of public media organization WFAE in Charlotte. “Our Fractured series has provoked a much-needed conversation about how to better serve these individuals and strengthen these institutions — a conversation that was only possible because of the level of nuance, lived experience and data WFAE’s reporting provided. None of this would have been possible without the support of FRONTLINE (PBS) and its funders, who believe in the power of strong, local investigative journalism to transform communities.”

WFAE will host a screening of Fractured on Mar. 12, at 7 p.m. EST, at the Dubois Center at UNC Charlotte Center City. A conversation with some of the participants from the film will follow the screening. Information is available at

Fractured will be available to stream starting Mar. 5, 2024 at 4 p.m. EST. Watch at, the PBS App, YouTube and the PBS Documentaries Prime Video Channel.


Fractured is a FRONTLINE production with Dandara Productions LLC in association with Firelight Media and WFAE. The director is Débora Souza Silva. The writers are Débora Souza Silva & Dana Miller Ervin. The producers are Loi Ameera Almeron, Débora Souza Silva and Dana Miller Ervin. The correspondent is Dana Miller Ervin. The co-producer and editor is Nelson Ryland. The senior producers are Nina Chaudry, Carla Borrás and Monika Navarro. The senior editors are Erin Texeira and Amy Rubin. The executive producers of Firelight Media are Stanley Nelson and Marcia Smith. The editor-in-chief and executive producer of FRONTLINE is Raney Aronson-Rath.

FRONTLINE, U.S. television’s longest running investigative documentary series, explores the issues of our times through powerful storytelling. FRONTLINE has won every major journalism and broadcasting award, including 106 Emmy Awards and 31 Peabody Awards. Visit and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube to learn more. FRONTLINE is produced at GBH in Boston and is broadcast nationwide on PBS. Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support of PBS viewers and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Additional support for FRONTLINE is provided by the Abrams Foundation, Park Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, and the FRONTLINE Journalism Fund, with major support from Jon and Jo Ann Hagler on behalf of the Jon L. Hagler Foundation, and additional support from Koo and Patricia Yuen. Funding for FRONTLINE’s Local Journalism Initiative is funded with support from John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

About WFAE
WFAE is one of the most trusted sources for award-winning local journalism for the Charlotte region. WFAE reaches more than 500,000 listeners and users each month and offers award-winning local, regional, national and international news from WFAE’s newsroom, NPR, the BBC and others. WFAE produces a weekday signature talk show, “Charlotte Talks,” hosted by radio veteran Mike Collins as well as podcasts such as SouthBound, hosted by Tommy Tomlinson. WFAE is an independent, nonprofit organization, licensed to the University Radio Foundation Inc., with a growing digital audience at as well as frequencies in Charlotte (90.7 FM), Hickory (90.3 FM), Laurinburg (106.1 FM) and Southern Pines (93.7 FM).

About Firelight Media
Firelight Media is a premier destination for non-fiction cinema by and about communities of color. Firelight Media produces documentary films, supports filmmakers of color, and cultivates audiences for their work. Firelight Media’s programs include the Documentary Lab, an 18-month fellowship that supports emerging filmmakers of color; Groundwork Regional Lab, which supports emerging filmmakers in the American south, midwest, and U.S. territories; and the William Greaves Research & Development Fund, for mid-career nonfiction filmmakers from racially and ethnically underrepresented communities, among others. Firelight Media also produces digital short film series, including season two of In the Making, with PBS American Masters, and a collection of regional short films, Homegrown: Future Visions, with the Center for Asian American Media.

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