US Prisons Are No Place for the Mentally Ill, Part II

mentally ill prison inmate.jpg

This two-part article was written exclusively for PsyWeb.com by Kathy Heyde, RN.

Click here to read Part I.

The mentally challenged inmates were the ones who would have to deliver the contraband from one unit to another, steal items from others for their abusers, give up the best part of their meal trays, do extra laundry and clean for others to survive in the system. Sexual favors and many other duties were delegated to them.

When there were about 100 inmates to one officer, the officer couldn't supervise all of the goings-on, and you would be surprised at what would happen during the times when the officer was distracted and the inmates ran their businesses. The officers would also use them as “snitches,” and if caught they would get the beating.

Hidden but Known Within the Walls

The underground dealings in a prison are quite unique. They have concealed stores where ANYTHING can be purchased for the right amount of services or money. They have a bartering system in which they sell/trade personal favors or items for special “things.” These are all within the confines of their housing units – under the officers' noses – and carried on even though their cells are searched for contraband very frequently.

How, you ask? They have their communication system and informants also; they listen to anything said and watch EVERYTHING you do. They have nothing but time to observe and see who they can con to do their bidding or who is handicapped enough that they are willing to sell their soul for a little recognition from the gangs.

Mentally Ill Inmates: Treatment and Transfers

The mentally ill very often suffer from more than one illness, and depression is usually one of the diagnoses they have. They often abuse drugs and have alcohol problems, and suicide is very high within the ranks. Dual-diagnosed individuals are very hard to diagnose and treat within the system because you are never sure which medications they are taking or what is going on after they leave the treatment group.

To remove these individuals and send them to another facility is the best way to provide continuous treatment. However, you have many individuals who will fake an illness to be moved to the special center. Herein lies a problem because you have untrained officers observing for behaviors, and because they see so many inmates fake their illness, they become immune to what they see and start to assume that all of them are faking to get a transfer.

The other problem is limited space within the center. An inmate must do something drastic to get transferred quickly, such as attempt suicide, due to the space availability, otherwise they are on a waiting list for transfer.

Is There a Solution?

To stop the abuse of the mentally ill in the community, to stop the increase in crimes they commit and the increase of the mentally ill we find within the prison system, we will have to re-open the centers for the mentally ill that we once had. We will need to pull the many mentally ill out from under the bridges and out of the far corners of the Earth, where they have sought refuge from the human race because they can no longer afford their medications or other treatment.

Many have abused their families to the point of being tossed out on to the street due to lack of programs and facilities for their care. Yes, it was a sad day when the caregivers had to watch what was happening to the clients they had taken care of and guided through life – the caregivers who now have to read about the crimes their clients commit while enjoying the freedom of trying to live in the community with the resources that still aren't there. But that's okay; the prison is!

Photo courtesy of Prison Photography

 
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