STOP! Warehousing the Mentally Ill in Jails/Prisons
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"Where there’s no vision…the people shall perish"
Mothers of Incarcerated Sons Society, Inc. (M.I.S.S.) is a 501(c) 3 organization. Our objective is to be a voice for the voiceless. We are in pursuit of targeting a number of legislators to help us change the laws on how people who suffer with mental illness are being processed through the criminal justice system. “Warehousing the mentally ill is not working, Senator Cornyn said, lawmakers need to address the problem so we can improve public safety, protect civil rights, and save taxpayer dollars.” Tom Dart, sheriff of Illinois’ Cook County stated, “He fears future generations will criticize the way police and prosecutors today treat the mentally ill.” His goal as sheriff is to get people treatment for mental illness rather than put them in handcuffs. Approximately 20 to 35 percent of all federal and state prisoners have serious mental illness.
Incarcerating these vulnerable individuals has become a vicious cycle. Their erratic behavior is often treated as a disciplinary problem. The dangerous environment of prison only exacerbates their already fragile mental condition; they should not be dehumanized because of their illness.
In the past few years, there have been numerous reports of deaths by the hands of prison guards who are not equipped to handle the complex nature of this disease. Jane Luna is a member of our organization; her son Charles Jason Toll suffered from mental illness as well as diabetes and was killed in prison by the controversial extraction method at the age of thirty-three. The New York Times featured an article and video on his tragic death. And then there was a young woman by the name of Natasha McKenna who suffered with schizophrenia since childhood. A six-man military style team of deputies pinned her down and shot her four times with a 50,000 volt Taser while she was strapped to a restraining chair. Natasha became unresponsive and died 5 days later. Her last words were “You promised me that you wouldn’t kill me. I didn’t do anything.” The Washington Post featured this horrific incident. A 45 minute video of the killing is posted on YouTube. Someone once wrote: “A Taser is a tool to inflict punishment. A sedative is a medical tool that is for treatment.” These are only a few of the many incidents that have occurred against the mentally ill in jails and prisons in this country. None of the guards in these two cases were charged with any type of criminal offense.
Mental illness is a disease of the mind and should be treated and respected as such. We don't punish people because they have diabetes, cancer, etc. So why is this country punishing the mentally ill? They are not disposable!
An individual with severe mental illness requires constant professional care with a well-trained and compassionate staff. Our organization’s position would be to have certified mentally ill individuals committed to re-established acute mental health institutions if they commit a crime. Or, at the very least, have all jails and prisons provide separate housing for them. A network of modern, safe, long-term residential facilities where these voiceless souls can be treated with human dignity and receive proper medical treatment.
The community based homes are obviously not working. "For the severely mentally ill, there is virtually no facility designed for long-term inpatient care," says Sherri Sullivan, director of Bridgeview Manor, the only residential treatment center in Ohio that accepts the indigent mentally ill. "If they exist, they exist in the form of a group home, and most group homes don't offer treatment."
It’s shameful how the mentally ill are now forced to fend for themselves out on the streets, or be taken care of by parents who are ill-equipped to deal with their children’s sickness without help. Parents cannot tackle this problem alone. When the individual commits a heinous crime, people stand around their water coolers at work, scratching their heads in disbelief, blaming the family. Where is the blame for those politicians, Civil Liberty Union Attorneys and the ACLU who lobbied for the closure of mental institutions, now that their plan for community-based group homes have failed miserably?
The ACLU and others took the position that closing down the psychiatric institutions would better serve the individual’s civil rights, but where are their civil rights now? These people are being hauled off to jails and prisons in record numbers, and they’re tortured for not being able to conform to the rules and regulations due to their mental illness. Where are the ACLU and the others now? Although they are currently lobbying to end Mass Incarceration, they should amend the laws they helped to create regarding the closure of mental health hospitals.
Government funding for mental illness is deplorable. From 2009 to 2012, states cut mental health budgets by a collective $4.35 billion and cut more than 3,222 psychiatric beds. The monies that are being spent to house the mentally ill in jails and prisons, should be diverted for proper long-term hospitals.
In addition, it's time to give the power back to the caregivers, family members who live with and monitor their loved ones on a daily basis. We need to re-enact the forced treatment laws. The standard of "imminent harm "should be lowered for an involuntary hold and a longer stay than 72 hours.
We the parents, family members and friends are ready to confront well-meaning civil rights lawyers and politicians who think involuntary commitment is a human rights violation. It is far worst and unjust to send the mentally ill to inadequately equipped jails and prisons, who may die there by the hands of their gate keepers.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind by Frank Wright, states: "Throughout history the problem of the mentally ill has been dodged. We have continually avoided mentally ill patients--we have segregated them, ostracized them, turned our back on them, tried to forget about them. We have allowed intolerable conditions to exist for the mentally ill through our ignorance and indifference. We can no longer afford to ignore their needs, to turn a deaf ear to their calls for help. We must come face to face with the facts."
“Change is the effort of committed citizens who hitch their wagons to something bigger than themselves and fight for it every single day. “— President Barack Obama
Let’s be on the right side of history. If we want change, we will have to fight for it. "God gives his hardest battles to his strongest soldiers."
If you agree with this petition, please sign.
Facilitators of the M.I.S.S. Mental Health Petition Campaign:
Rhonda Robinson – Founder/Director
Andrea Darnell – Executive Director
Jane Luna – M.I.S.S. member
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