Sunday, December 28, 2014

Michigan's shameful treatment of mentally ill inmates

It doesn’t take long to figure out what’s wrong with Michigan prisoner Mr. T.

You don’t have to spend hours trying to decipher the awkward hand-writing in a meandering 5-page letter, or the stack of poorly prepared grievances, or the attached medical and psychological reports.

Here’s what you’ll find:

           -two suicide attempts
          -personal attacks by inmates
          -verbal abuse by guards
          -various medical issues, some serious, some treated, some not
          -misconduct tickets, often for “insolence.”

Mr. T. is mentally ill.

This subject keeps rearing its ugly head as Matt and I try to address the problems of inmates.  A good share of our prisoners are mentally challenged, staff-members aren’t properly trained to handle them, and many fellow-prisoners don’t know how to deal with them.  As a result, tragic stories, hundreds of them very much like this…and nothing happening!

Reading between the lines, it’s easy to see how staff members say unkind things to this man, how doctors finally give up on trying to deal with his aches and pains, how the psychologist struggles with medication issues, how fellow-inmates treat him poorly, and ultimately how he feels alone and abandoned.  And, it would be easy to laugh this off as many staff members do, joking that it’s just another deranged person ranting and raving. 

But, here’s the problem:  Mr. T. is a child of God.  He’s also a son, possibly a brother, possibly a father, possibly an uncle.  Jesus loves him.  Through no fault of his own, he got sent to the wrong institution for care.  He’s now a ward of the state, and that means our tax dollars are being spent, or misspent. 

Another inmate complained this week that things are crawling around beneath her skin.  Different symptoms, same problem.  She thinks no one cares.  She insists no one is helping her. She's mentally ill.

And the Parole Board, also an arm of the MDOC, isn’t helping matters.  In a recent interview, a mentally challenged inmate was told that she couldn’t be considered for release to a psychiatric hospital until she started behaving!  Duh!

The state admits that about 25% of its prisoners have mental issues.  We think it’s closer to 50%!  Either way, it’s past time to do something about it.  You must talk to your state legislators.  Go the Governor.  Go to the Director of the Department of Corrections.  Your church should protest.  Mental health advocates should be up in arms.  It’s going to take a lot of pushing and shoving.  We’re going to have to cause a lot of commotion.  But there’s no alternative. 

Michigan prisons are not mental institutions, which means that 25-50% of their occupants are not being cared for properly.  And their problems are not simple issues that HFP can help solve. These people deserve real help.  Now!

What are you going to do about it? 

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