I made a mistake. I brushed off a prisoner who is mentally challenged. Now I’m struggling with guilt feelings.
It all began when the guy wrote to tell me about a sinister plot…a prison physician had secretly implanted a chip in him, and he was worried. But his communication with HFP didn’t end there. A couple days later, he sent the longest email message ever received by this office. I’m thinking it probably broke every record through JPay, the prison email system. The letter totaled 8,400 words! Will said that it took him 9 hours to write that message, supporting his fears!
And that’s precisely the point where our staff must sit back and take a closer look.
Instead, because of record-breaking numbers of messages from prisoners, their families and their loved ones, we simply explained to him that we were not equipped to handle issues like that. On to the next guy, and problems we can better deal with. That wasn’t quite fair.
What we keep forgetting, and what I think the state keeps ignoring, is that we have a critical mental illness problem in our prisons, and these people deserve our attention. The US Department of Justice, for example, says that more than half of all prison inmates have a mental health problem compared with 11 percent of the general population, yet only one in three prison inmates receive any form of mental health treatment.
We’ve discussed this so many times in the past. Those of you who are older will remember when we started closing down Michigan’s mental institutions and, wonder of wonders, as that population diminished the prison population increased! Think there’s any connection?
Here are some questions for Michigan officials, which I just lifted from THE JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PSYCHIATRY AND THE LAW:
Are our prisons' rehabilitative services set up to provide comprehensive mental health and psychiatric programs to deal with the increasing population with such severe psychopathology and impairment? Shouldn't standards of care of psychiatric disorders be respected in the correctional setting as they are in other community provider settings? Shouldn't inmates have access to the same standard of treatment consistent with the principle of equivalence?
Shouldn't access to specialized diagnostic procedures and assessment protocols, including general and neuropsychological testing, be available and applied to identify neuropsychiatric and behavioral consequences of brain injury and other organic disorders? Are states willing to allocate sufficient budget and manpower resources to meet the needs of mentally ill and substance abusing offenders? Are legislators and administrators willing to take a serious look at the criminal justice process to determine how to refer mentally ill arrestees and offenders to various treatment programs?
I’m not dropping Will’s case. HFP can and must do better.
So must the State of Michigan!