Crime and inhumane punishment

The situation at Rikers Island mirrors an “epidemic of violence” in big-city jails across the country, said Dr. James Gilligan, a clinical professor of psychiatry and co-author of a 2013 report that found the treatment of mentally ill inmates at Rikers Island violated the city’s mental health standards. He said an overreliance on solitary confinement and force at Rikers Island and elsewhere perpetuated violence among inmates, particularly the mentally ill, who have crowded the nation’s correctional facilities as mental hospitals and other institutions have closed….

The proportion of inmates with a diagnosed mental illness has grown to 40 percent, from 20 percent, over the last eight years, according to the Correction Department. These inmates are responsible for about two-thirds of infractions at city jails, the department said….

The monotony, the isolation and the aggression of officers and inmates can worsen mental illness, causing inmates to lash out, said Dr. Bandy X. Lee, a professor of psychiatry at Yale University who specializes in violence at prisons and jails.

“Right now, jails and prisons are grappling with a population they are not prepared to deal with,” Dr. Lee said. “It is not so much a fault on the part of the correction system. They are simply not equipped and have not been able to adjust quickly enough.”

Inmates who receive mental health treatment were five times as likely to require an “injury visit” to a jail clinic after a violent altercation with officers or inmates, according to a 2012 study by the city’s health department. They also stay in jail much longer than those not treated for a mental illness and have higher rates of recidivism.

Shateek Bilal, 40, who has paranoid schizophrenia, has been in and out of Rikers Island since 1991, mostly for drug crimes and parole violations. Last year, he served three stints in custody, two at Rikers and one in the Manhattan Detention Complex, another city-run jail, for a total of seven months. He was released on Dec. 12 and now lives with his sister.

The jail time, he said, “exacerbated my mental illness, made me paranoid, made me more apt not to take the medication.”
But while the most seriously mentally ill inmates now receive some therapy, isolation remains a widespread punitive tool, oversight officials said.

Solitary confinement and some therapeutic units are rife with abuse and neglect, city officials and inmate advocates said. They described walls that are covered with feces and body fluids, and inmates who scream incessantly and throw themselves into walls and doors. Inmates are housed in the units 22 to 24 hours a day, while inmates in the jails can watch television, work out and interact with others.

At a January meeting of the Board of Correction, which oversees city jails, Bryanne Hamill, one of its members, said that on a recent visit to a specialized housing unit, she and other board members knocked on the door to a cell after noticing the window had been covered in feces. After failing to get a response, they asked correction officers to open the door.

Ms. Hamill said it took over an hour before a medical team arrived, opened the door and found the female inmate, naked, wrapped in a blanket with some kind of ligature around her neck.

“The medical, one in particular screamed, ‘She’s trying to kill herself; we need help,’ ” Ms. Hamill said.

Mr. Seabrook, the president of the correction officers’ union, faulted the department’s leaders for not adequately training officers to handle mentally ill inmates and then punishing his members when they use force to protect themselves. “The inmate can use and abuse and do whatever it is he wants, and when a correction officer attempts to restrain the inmate and use whatever force is necessary to defuse the incident, the officer goes to be charged with a crime,” he said.

Speaking of mentally ill inmates, he said: “They need medication, treatment, psychological help. They don’t need a corrections officer.”

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Why did the U.S. close the hospitals and put these people on the streets, so they’ll end up in jails like this? Shameful. This is as bad - or worse - than the psych wards of the old days.

And you wonder why there’s so much inexplicable crime - like the mass shootings - which seems to be attributable to those with mental illnesses?

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  1. sarahintampa posted this