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.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *