Let the conversation begin.
Where is the Social Justice for the Mentally Ill When Far Too Many Are Coming Out of Jail In Body Bags Or Receiving Inhumane Treatment? Our Minds Are Not Our Only Prisons
Blog by Christina Huff, COO, & Kerry Martin, CEO, Hope Xchange Nonprofit.
It is not uncommon to those of us with mental illnesses to have at least one episode that resulted in a stay in the hospital or mental health facility. Some of us have even been incarcerated for a period of time. We all have stories from those times, some positive, some positively horrible. The goal of those visits is to get us to practice what we've learned, and hope that we never have to go back.
But, what happens if you never get out?
Far Too Many People with Mental Illnesses in U.S. Don't Make It Out of Jail Alive or Receive Humane Treatment
There are far too many people with mental illnesses in the U.S. that sadly don't make it out. But they are more than just statistics. They are someone's parent, sibling, spouse, and/or friend. Their life is just as important as any other patient or any other prisoner, and it doesn't matter how long they have been in that facility. They should not have to fight for their lives against those that are in charge of caring for them in their facility.
It is hard enough for them to fight for their lives on their own due to their illness. For many, that is the reason they ended up where they are, not because they did something so egregiously wrong, but because their illness had taken over and they did something like breaking into their father's house because they were hungry. Yes, this really happened and in last December, it was reported it had taken 18 months for this youth to be transferred to a mental health facility and out of a jail. He was without medication and any kind of treatment for his mental illness during that time.
Is this Just a Recent Trend or Something We Now Just Have to Put up With?
This isn't just a recent trend that is happening either. The treatment of those with mental illnesses has taken on a whole world of inadequate and inhumane treatment in jails across the country. Most recently, in California, in San Luis Obispo County, Investigators had to be hired because of the the death of 3 inmates in the past year. In one instance, a 36-year old man who suffered from schizophrenia had been in solitary confinement for about a year and a half, with improper medications, which caused him to have some psychotic breaks. He was court ordered to be transferred from the jail to the county psychiatric facility, but it was not done.
Meanwhile, because of his psychotic breaks, the guards stripped him naked, strapped him to a chair (the chair was meant for short term use, i.e. 2-3 hours per the manufacturer). They left him in this chair for more than 46 hours, not even allowing him to get up for the bathroom. They released the straps but when they finally came back to get him it was too late. He was collapsed on the floor dead.
In Broward County, a man who suffered from schizophrenia, had a history with the law, had previously spent 11 years in a state mental hospital for some legal issues. In 2014, at 6'2" and 240 lbs, he was sent to the county jail for 155 days. He was found in solitary confinement, refusing to eat or drink, and taken to the hospital with pneumonia, hypothermia, anemia, a blood infection, suffering from malnutrition and dehydration and now weighing 139 lbs. This man was left to wither away, eventually passing away six weeks after his hospital visit.
Then we have a case in New York. A 23-year old male who was hospitalized 13 times in the past for ADHD, PTSD, bipolar disorder with psychotic features, and delusional disorder. He was ordered to probation and mental health appointments but because he did not attend them, he was incarcerated. He spent 18 months in solitary confinement. New York has a law which requires all prisoners receive a mental health assessment before being placed in isolation. You are supposed to get about two hours of therapy outside the cell per day. This man was allowed one hour outside his cell every MONTH.
Abuse in our Jail Doesn't Discriminate Based on Gender
No, this doesn't just happen to men either. A lawsuit filed in New Mexico, Los Lunas County, reported a woman who was diagnosed with bipolar was denied treatment for her disorder and, much like the others noted above, was in and out of solitary confinement for two years. During her time there, a sock had rotted into an open wound on her foot and she was forced to sleep in a shower.
Why are they put in solitary? They misbehave. Why do they misbehave? Because they are not given the proper medications, because they are experiencing withdrawal from not receiving medications, and they are not given any type of therapy.
Effects of Solitary Confinement on Mentally Ill
Study after study, lawsuit after lawsuit has shown that solitary confinement is especially harmful for patients with mental illness. According to a new study just released by the Treatment Advocacy Center, an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 inmates are reported to be in solitary confinement up to 23 hours a day in the United States – roughly one in every six or seven prisoners.
The practice that has been condemned worldwide and challenged on legal, legislative and other fronts at the state and federal level in the nation. The study goes on to say that among the most widely denounced prisoner segregation practices is confining individuals with serious mental illness (SMI) or other vulnerabilities, such as pregnancy or youth, in such isolation.
"The mental equivalent of placing an asthmatic in a place with little air to breathe,"
Why Are We Putting People With Severe Mental Illness in Jail Instead of a Mental Health Facility?
The list goes on and on with instances of abuse of the mentally ill in jails all across the country, but really, the more important question is, why are all those with severe mental illnesses in a jail and not in mental health care facility? The answer? There are just not enough beds in those facilities. The image below speaks volumes to the magnitude of the problem this country is facing.
NOTE: In the US, four out five of the mentally ill are currently behind bars. According to the Treatment Advocacy Center, there are 383,000 inmates with mental illness in our jails and prisons. Former Washington Post reporter and now best-selling author and mental health advocate, Pete Earley, reports that 85% of the mentally ill return to prison relative to 50% of the general population due to inadequate re-entry services.
In the second of our series on Social Justice for the Mentally Ill, we will be publishing a blog post with Diana Stinson, who is the mother to an innocent man who has being back and forth between jail and a mental health facility and unjustly locked up for over four years for something he did not do. We will be speaking to an often overlooked consequence of the unfair incarceration of the mentally ill: the impact on their families - in this case his parents and his two young children who have been growing up for 4 years asking, "when is daddy coming home?"