Violence, Mental Illness, and the need for Prison Reform

According to a recent New York Times article, “Over the past decade, the use of force by correction officers has jumped nearly 240 percent, even as the daily population has declined by almost 15 percent over the same period.” Such an increase is extremely concerning to those who oversee the prison system as well as those who advocate for those who are incarcerated.

What is the explanation for this increase?

Some attribute the increase in violence, in part, to the surge of prisoners who have some sort of mental illness. Such conditions often make following the rules of prison difficult, and often these prisoners lash out. Additionally, it is concerning to learn that “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.” While there has been some increase in the training received by corrections officers as to how these inmates differ from the general population, it appears more needs to be done.  Even with an increase in training, the lack of sound procedures seem to be directly linked to the tragic death of one mentally ill inmate, Mr. Echevarria. Mr. Echevarria ingested a toxic cleaning agent, and corrections officers ignored his pleas, him vomiting blood, and he eventually died in his cell.

Some of the violence is being attributed to inmates being abused at the hands of corrections officers. One former inmate who was interviewed in this article recounts some of the abuse he suffered: ““I was cuffed, they kicked us, punched us, threw garbage on us, and Maced me all at the same time.” This same inmate, in another incident with corrections officers, was “beaten by at least 10 correction officers in April 2012 after he refused to leave his cell.” As a result, he suffered a fractured nose and vertebra and said he “was choked until he passed out.”

While prison reform has never bee a popular topic, these articles certainly beg the question of when will be enough. How much more abuse will people who are incarcerated have to suffer before changes are made? It seems horribly wrong to treat incarcerated individuals differently because they are incarcerated.


Our Broken Mental Health System and How Hurts Our Youth

Our Broken Mental Health System and How Hurts Our Youth

60 Minutes began Sunday night with a segment on the mental health system in the US and how it is failing our youth.  I listened to the 60 Minutes podcast and did not see the video of the segment.  Even still, it is very powerful and recommend all readers to check it out.

Here is how the story began:

Last November 19th, Virginia State Senator Creigh Deeds was slashed and stabbed repeatedly by his own son. Gus Deeds was 24 years old and had been struggling with mental illness. He and his father had been in an emergency room just hours before the attack but didn’t get the help that they needed. The story of what went wrong with his medical care exposes a problem in the way that America handles mental health. It’s a failure that came to the fore with the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The vast majority of mental patients are not violent. But this is a story about the fraction who are a danger to themselves or others. Parents of mentally ill children in crisis often find, as Sen. Deeds did, that they have nowhere to go. Creigh Deeds bears the scars of this failure on his face, his body and his soul.