Sunday, May 6, 2012

Cells are not mental wards

Not in a county jail...not in a state prison.

Fine Detroit Free Press writer Jeff Gerritt has a great piece in today's newspaper entitled: When jails must be mental clinics. It's a must read. Mr. Gerritt has written a series of articles re care of the mentally ill behind bars. It's dismal. And something must be done. Sadly, a decision was made years ago to close mental institutions in Michigan. The alternative didn't work, and soon the mentally ill were on the streets. Then they wound up in our jails and prisons. Today's Freep story says an estimated 10,000 mentally ill people are in Michigan county jails. Some people believe there are that many mentally challenged in the state prison system as well.

It's a lose-lose situation for both prisoner and care giver. Corrections staffers, at the county and state level, are not trained to handle the mentally challenged. Their efforts are often crude, cruel and misdirected. The state's lax approach to providing appropriate meds makes things much worse for the mentally ill. And, when the mentally ill inmate misbehaves, he/she can be punished in a couple of unproductive ways: segregation, and/or further delays in getting released.

The whole issue of mentally ill behind bars was already on my mind today after receiving an email message from my friend Lois, whose teenaged son---struggling with mental issues---is having a difficult time in prison. She reports that last week he cut himself, something he is prone to do when distraught, but this time he hit an artery. He was transferred to a critical care unit in another prison, but there he attempted to hang himself in the shower. And you think you have family problems?

Kevin doesn't belong in prison. He belongs in a mental clinic. After all this has happened, I suspect there will be more and more delays in getting him the help that he really needs.

How many Kevins will it take before we wake up?

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