There is a large sum of groups that populate prisons, from offenders with AIDS to youthful offenders usually under the age of 25. The population of offenders that I will be discussing is the group of the mentally ill in prisons. Mentally ill offenders are individuals with mental disorders, according to NAMI.org (National Alliance on Mental Illness), a mental illness is “…a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.” such a condition is capable of making a person commit a crime with little to no remorse at the time of the crime. Some mental disorders can also make a person commit a crime without them knowing so. People with dementia disorders such as Alzheimer disease, that breaks down a person’s way of thinking and behavior as well as memory dysfunctions, can make them believe that by doing something bad, such as committing a murder crime of an intruder on their home would be the right thing to so in self-defense and protecting their family.
However that intruder may not actually be an intruder at all, it could be their own family member that the mental disorder completely wiped out temporarily from the persons memory. Not all crimes are as follows though, someone could be simply having a break down and temporarily lose their sanity and wreak havoc in a manner that disrupts the law. How this population adjusts to incarceration isn’t quite simple. Often these groups of prisoners get badly taken care of due to poor health care in prisons. Other prisoners when given an opportunity victimize and torment these populations of mentally ill inmates. Prisons are never a safe place for anyone, prisoners confined and limited to their actions build up aggression and anger, and when that anger gets to a certain point, they seek out on other lesser and weaker inmates to unleash it upon. Then there are other types of prisoners that set rules for others to follow so that they won’t have any altercations, but mentally ill prisoners often have trouble following directions and unintentionally disrupting the peace.
Once those rules are broken, they get beaten and abused to set an example of what it is that happens when one disrupts the rules of a prison gang. It is not only the other prisoners that take advantage of the mentally ill. Often they get sent into solitary units for not being able to follow the rules of the jail as well. Once a mentally ill inmate is sent into isolation for long periods of time, it may push one to their limits and reach acute psychosis. People with acute psychosis display symptoms of intense rage, and loss or reality. Understaffed and lack of equipment make prisons bad places to house the mentally ill, because of the ill equipped and understaffed structure, prisoners with mental illnesses go under-treated or not treated at all. According to the Humans Rights Watch, “There are three times as many men and women with mental illness in U.S. Prisons as in mental health hospitals. The rate of mental illness is the prison population is three times higher than in the general population.” they also state that for every six inmates, one of them is mentally ill. Some illnesses include bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, and depression.
With the lack of treatment, some inmates go as far as hurting themselves either by cutting, bashing their own head in the prisons walls, and attempts of suicide. Depression is mental illness that pushes inmates to commit suicide or simply lose their sanity and smear themselves with their own feces. Although there is a major lack of specialized staff to treat the mentally ill in prisons, there are services that are still provided. Some jails provide certain drugs such as sedatives, stimulants, tranquilizers, and antidepressants to their inmates that have been established as mentally ill when evaluated by professionals. And in some places, there are professionals that keep a daily watch on inmates with severe cases of mental disorders so that is to prevent any disruptions from mood swings and acute psychosis. These are services that are offered to the mentally ill, but not all are treated. There is still a lack of staffing and lack of funds that ultimately prevents some inmates from receiving the treatment they deserve. “It is deplorable and outrageous that this state’s prisons appear to have become a repository for a great number of its mentally ill citizens.
Persons, who, with psychiatric care, could fit well into society, are instead locked away, to become wards of the state’s penal system. Then in a tragically ironic twist, they may be confined in conditions that nurture, rather than abate, their psychoses.” – Judge William Wayne Justice, Ruiz v. Johnson, 37 F. Supp.2n 855 (S.D. Texas, 1999). Simply said, if inmates received the aide and treatments that they so desperately needed, they could recover and be a functioning part of our society, but when they can’t get that, they get sent to jail where their needs go unattended and their minds slowly fade away. In the public’s eyes, we see this population of inmates in a conflicting manner. We witness news stations that broadcasts breaking news of mentally ill persons that commit serious crimes like mass murders and law breaking events that enrage the public. The public then writes out to social media outlets that they would like to see these criminals punished and even killed right on the spot. But with later details that the reasons on why these people did what they did were due to mental break downs or illnesses that went untreated, they divert their anger at institutions and programs that should have kept an eye on them.
This is why the public’s view on mentally ill prisoners is conflicted, a portion of the public sympathizes with these offenders and wishes for better treatments for them, but the other portion of the public has no sympathy for these criminals and goes on to trash them on open media social sites like YouTube or tumbler and make public posts or videos expressing their anger towards them. However it is not always such serious crimes like mass murder that leads mentally ill people to jail. For those lesser crimes, the public does sympathize and attention is given to how poorly they are treated in jail and people sometimes rally and petition for better care. However a better health care system is not always present in all prisons. The public views aren’t always unanimous, there are always conflicting views and reasons towards those views, but as far as mentally ill inmates, I guess it’s their crime that leads to how the public views them as individuals, but as a whole, it’s conflicting.
There is however, a large portion that agrees that mentally ill prisoners need to be supervised or under constant watch for suicide and that they progress mentally instead of breaking down and losing sanity. There are many mentally ill inmates that have been mistreated by the justice system, either abused by other inmates or not properly medicated or watched upon by proper staff officials. One case that I will be using as an example is the case of David Harold. David was diagnosed in the past with multiple mental troubles and suicidal tendencies. His father, Gale Harold Jr, asked the North Carolina Department of Corrections to hold the warden criminally responsible for the lack of treatment and subhuman conditions he placed David in. According to WRPL.com a local news station website, “Gale Harold Jr. says his son, David Harold, 34, attempted suicide at another facility and was sent to Central Prison for treatment. There, he says, his son was put in isolation, held in filthy conditions and never received any medical treatment.” It’s been known now that when u hold a mentally ill person in isolation, symptoms of acute psychosis flare up and lead to further damage to the persons mental health often deteriorating their sanity. “Rather than giving him treatment and helping him, he was warehoused in an empty cold room with no help at all,” Gale Harold said. “He was naked.
The rooms were spread, not with his feces, but the feces of previous inmates. Urine and blood was everywhere.” statement his father told the reporters. However, as soon as the news of an investigation came up, the warden, Gerald Branker, announced that he was retiring. Some believe he did so to avoid the charges but the investigation continued to go and warden Branker would be held accountable for the neglect of inmates with mental illnesses and the poor conditions in which they were held in. inspectors even went in to find that some inmates were held in isolation for weeks at a time surrounded by pools of human waste. The prison was under staffed and ill-equipped, but more attention could have been given to those with serious mental disorders, rather than locking them away to avoid the problem. David was then transferred to Alexander Correctional in Taylorsville, a facility that can properly take care of the mentally ill. In conclusion, I decided to write about the mentally ill in prisons because I am close to a friend of mine with mental issues from a brain injury he suffered in 2006.
There are moments when he can’t control his actions and I always wondered if there might be a time where his actions land him in jail and how would he be treated in there. Upon doing research on this topic, I found out that mentally ill inmates are so badly treated and neglected by officials in the justice system. They get used and abused by fellow inmates and driven to isolation when the prison guards can’t control them. There have been cases when mentally stabled inmates threaten and hurt the mentally ill just to get their medication drugs to get high on. This abuse and mistreatment of the mentally ill has gone on for many years, and lack of funds and staff allow this punishment to continue. The strong always look for the weak to take advantage of and that happens to be the mentally ill. However there have been cases where the mentally ill with no treatment and pushed to acute psychosis go on to harm and even kill inmates that get in their way. This could also be avoided if they were carefully watched and medicated properly instead of neglected.
I believe this population should be more carefully watched and kept apart but still monitored. They should have special sections or housing in jails for the mentally ill, where they can be treated but still held in prison with no special treatment other than medication and constant monitoring. If they were given more privileges that a normal inmate would, then riots would maybe consume the jail structure for reasons of unfairness to others. Unfortunately my beliefs aren’t practiced as strongly as I wish. There are prisons that do carefully monitor their inmates and properly medicate those that need so, but there are still symptoms of abuse on the mentally ill. As our technology and building structures keep evolving with each passing year, maybe in the near future there will be more advanced prison structures that can monitor all inmates and carefully keep them all healthy and sane for their serving time. But until that time arrives, I hope my friend doesn’t do anything that will result in him facing jail time. Also that the news of ongoing investigations in jails treatment of the mentally ill should strike fear enough in wardens from other prisons to upgrade and equip their staff with proper training so that future inmates with mental illnesses can be properly served. It’s time for a change in our justice system and fairness for all that serves time.
Capitol Broadcasting Company (2012) Retrieved Jan.8.13. From: http://www.wral.com/news/local/story/10557210/ Human Rights Watch (October 22, 2003) Retrieved Jan.8.13. From: http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/publisher,HRW,,USA,3fe482a57,0.html WebMD LLC (N.d) Retrieved Jan.8.13. From: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/458600