For mentally ill too often prison means solitary, neglect, and even death | Global | The Guardian
… [Patti] Jones describes being stymied at every turn by prison officials who refused to compel him to take his medications despite requests from his family, and witnessing a rapid decline in her nephew’s condition. Late on 11 July 2010 family members received a call reporting that he had been taken to the prison infirmary with “non life-threatening injuries”. Hours later, the prison was calling with an update: he was dead.
The prison, Jones says, was lying about the circumstances of his death, which was caught on video. Over the course of a chilling and horrific 23 minutes, guards can be seen identifying Lester in medical distress and refusing to render aid beyond telling him that assistance is coming …
Please don’t just watch the video about Tony Lester’s preventable death … please read The Guardian article and think. Hard.
Within the article is the biggest puzzle piece to the U.S. continuing to criminalize mental illness, despite the ongoing, hideous consequences nationwide.
Per the article, the American Bar Association did not speak out against the prosecutors that call for prison sentences for the mentally ill, or judges that accommodate those prosecutors: the ABA instead spoke out against solitary confinement.
In doing so, the ABA didn’t simply put the cart before the horse; they ignored the horse entirely, pretending that the cart could get somewhere on its own. It can’t. It won’t.
Public attorneys’ conduct is the ABA’s responsibility, but you’d never, ever know it from their behavior.
Look first at the ABA – always – when the monstrous demands of the Prison Industrial Complex for MORE INMATES are met.
Then look at Congress, which heard the appropriate testimony to call a screaming halt to prosecutors and judges criminalizing mental illness in 2000 – nearly 15 years ago – per the Press Release below.
Legislators ignore the fact that all of the Prison Industrial Complex dollars they accept for dirty deeds – like keeping mental illness a crime – are taxpayers’ misappropriated dollars, dollars they could more honorably and easily acquire simply by doing the right thing.
Please share this post. Don’t dishonor Tony Lester by failing to click a button or two. Or Richard Mair, or any of the hundreds of other mentally ill inmates who have died by suicide or homicide since 2000, when Congress learned they needed to change things, and didn’t. Thank you.
STOP CRIMINALIZING MENTAL ILLNESS
U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime September 21, 2000
Laurie Flynn, Executive Director
For Immediate Release, September 21, 2000
Contacts: Anne-Marie Chace 703-524-7600
Risdon Slate is president of NAMI-Polk County (Florida) and a professor of criminology at Florida Southern College. He is a former United States probation officer and state corrections administrator. He also has bipolar disorder (manic depression), a biochemical brain imbalance that causes severe mood swings, from manic episodes to suicidal depressions.
Risdon’s illness can be treated successfully with medication. But several years ago, one doctor took him off medication. His condition quickly deteriorated. During a manic episode, police were called. Risdon was taken to the county jail and put in a holding cell with other detainees. Because of bizarre behavior caused by his illness, he was assaulted first by another prisoner, then by corrections officers. He then was isolated in a strip cell.
Risdon’s wife pleaded that he was seriously ill and needed medical treatment. Finally, a federal probation officer with whom Risdon once had worked intervened. Flashing his badge, he was able to get Risdon released and took him to a hospital. He probably saved his life. Back on medication, Risdon’s condition stabilized.
Today, Risdon Slate is testifying before Congress. His testimony will serve as a reminder that mental illness can happen to anyone. No one is immune. Credentials or status do not matter, and no one can be protected from a criminal justice system that is ill-prepared and overburdened to address cases that involve mental illness.
NAMI is grateful to U.S. Representative Bill McCollum (R-FL) for holding the first Congressional hearing on the criminalization of mental illness. It is a tragedy of national proportions and represents a crisis of both the criminal justice system and our broader mental healthcare system. It is a trend that is expensive, ineffective and inhumane. It also is unfair to police and corrections officers who often serve as the nation’s front-line psychiatric workers, but without appropriate training or support.
Eighteen months ago, the Department of Justice released its report that more than a quarter of a million people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other severe mental illnesses languish in the nation’s prisons and jails-nearly six times the numbers in hospitals. Most people with mental illnesses who become incarcerated are not hard-core criminals. Most have committed minor, non-violent offenses caused by the symptoms of untreated illness. Many are homeless.
The Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health has helped Americans to recognize that mental illnesses are biologically-based. Treatment works-but only if you can get it. For schizophrenia, the success rate is 60 percent; for bipolar disorder, 80 percent. Both are higher than the rate for treatment of heart disease. But throwing people in jail isn’t part of the treatment plan.
Today’s hearing witnesses include the president of the Los Angeles County Police Chiefs; the chief prosecutor of Multnomah County, Oregon; a judge from Kings County Superior Court in Washington; and other state and local officials. They will describe the dimensions of the problem. They also will suggest solutions, such as specialized crisis intervention teams (CIT) for police and mental health courts (MHC).
Legislation is pending in the Senate and House to support such initiatives. Today’s hearing will not focus on specific bills, but it will provide a foundation for future, bipartisan action. Every candidate running for public office in this election year, at the federal, state or local level, might do well to listen. A national crisis exists. It demands national solutions. And the best solutions involve treatment for the people who need it, as an investment in the health, safety, welfare and productivity of our nation.