The excessive prison costs in many states has resulted in a reduced number of educational programs within the prison systems creating less chances for prisoners to rehabilitate themselves and improve their own life skills and taking responsibility for making good and bad decisions. The dismantling of such programs is detrimental to the general functionality of any prison setting as it induces idleness or instead of being in a classroom, these prisoners are assigned to meaningless jobs just to wear them out and keep them busy. Educational programs must provide some type of therapeutic impact on their minds and behaviors in order to benefit their stay in prison.
Idleness is the hands of the devil and this is so true inside a prison. The fact remains that overcrowded prisons result in less program space and less staffing for programs thus creating the horrid warehousing effect that thrived in the early eighties. The Treatment Advocacy Center has surveyed prisons and found the majority to hold mentally ill prisoners who are experiencing a difficulty to cope with the prison setting thus resulting in excessive disciplinary actions and or higher custody scores demonstrating the administration’s lack of understanding or any consideration for their impairment or dysfunctional abilities to abide by the rules. Their survey indicates a higher than normal placement of mentally ill prisoners in prisons rather than state hospitals. The national average is to be said to be a 3 to 1 ratio showing that for every single person kept in a state hospital, there are three persons incarcerated into the prisons. Mentally ill inmates housed in prisons are approximately reaching proportions of about 16 to 25 per cent of the entire prison populations thus creating a serious void of prisoner needs and treatment. Nevada and Arizona are the worst when it comes to incarcerating mentally ill persons into their prison systems creating a ratio of 9 to 1 for Arizona and 10 to 1 for Nevada.
This eventually results in the prisoner being elevated into a higher custody level which results in the eroding of freedom and privileges that may have helped them cope a little bit better than being locked down. In addition to their loss of movement, they also lose their ability to make contact or touch another human being as we normally do within our free societies. Contact or touch inside prison have a different meaning that on the street. Contact and touch means group activities, interactions, visits with loved ones and able to shake a hand; pat someone on the back or just an old fashion hug. These are basic necessities in our needs for basic life occurrences and socialization.
Well trained and mature minded correctional officers do a fantastic job in the supervision and management of all prisoners promoting a safe and secure environment for all concerned. On the other hand, ill trained or immature mean spirited correctional officers are not sensitive to mentally ill prisoners or their needs. Their levels of compassion and sympathy are almost non-existent. It is the general rule to be less friendly or sociable in order to maintain order and compliance when speaking or directing the prisoner to a chore or assignment. It has been said in many training classes that when a prisoner moves their lips, they are lying. The culture does not provide compassion or understanding of these social and psychiatric needs unless the administration takes the time to train their staff to recognize the difference between a sociopath and a psychopath. Therein lays the difference in establishing a sound mental health program as the officers will be able to identify those areas of illness or disabilities that fall between these two extremes and provide the prisoner with a less harsh environment free of undue punitive measures that allows a trust factor to grow and establish a working standard in order to develop a safe environment. It is also helpful if the staffing of such places includes volunteers who have requested to work with mentally ill prisoners reducing the animosity levels and enhancing the therapeutic levels of treatment.
Abuse is the number one concern with mentally ill prisoners. One takes it for granted that all prisoners can follow orders and comply as told to by staff. This is untrue in some cases. The simple task of directing a mentally ill prisoner to come to the cell front to be handcuffed is taken for granted that the prisoner understands the purpose or the reason for this action. First, they may have had a bad understanding that keeps them from feeling safe under the supervision of good or bad officers. Experiencing prior bad things happening by other officers who were perhaps abusive in nature and short tempered or ill trained, they may have received an unnecessary “punishment” or undisclosed dosage of pepper gas for not responding fast enough “to teach them a lesson.” The deployment of the gas in reality offers the prisoner a reason not to come to the front of the cell to be handcuffed. For some officers, the opportunity to “decontaminate” the inmate of the gas may result in a complete hosing down with a pressured fire [water] hose or buckets of water while sitting or standing completely nude waiting to see the nurse for the preceding use of force episode that could have been prevented. Secondly, the application of the cuff by ill trained or mean spirited officers often results in the “racking of the claws” so tight they hurt and often swell the wrists creating a gross discomfort and suffering. The prisoner may feel insecure and unsafe outside his cell and therefore refuses to leave the cell resulting in a forced extraction of his person that involves a beating of some sort to bring him or her into compliance. One must not take the refusal to “cuff up” as an act of disobedience but rather, take the time to understand the dynamics behind such an act. This is where training comes in handy to avoid additional abuses. On the other hand, this act to be aggressive may be another way to “act out” their frustrations of not being put in the right place to do their time as they don’t understand why they are in solitary confinement to begin with and rebel against such a placement with anything they can to fight the feelings put on them while housed in such an arrangement. The issue is to treat the inmate appropriately [whichever it be therapy or medication] so the comprehension between officer and prisoner is better and the communication is better. Many officers still practice the behavior modification methods which are totally unacceptable today when dealing with the mentally ill.
There are many other abuses that occur to mentally ill prisoners that are often unnecessary and serve no purpose other than lack of respect or consideration of the prisoner’s rights and status. Leaving prisoners inside a locked shower for hours at a time creates a phobia for being put in there once left behind a time or few. The manner their food trays are served because the meal was either thrown on the floor or tampered with as it was passed through the food tray. They were denied their recreation time out of the cell and subject to selective enforcement of policies because of their apparent lack of understanding of what is happening in real time making them targets for inattention or totally ignored or supervised. Refusing to bathe may result in a forced shower when the fire hose is brought in by some careless officer who feels it necessary to clean the prisoner as he is doused with cold water in the middle of the night, awakening other prisoners who are already suffering from insomnia or sleep deprivation because of the noise, the tension or the overall mood of the unit. Many sleep during the day to feel safer and fail to participate in any activities that occur during the daylight hours giving the staff the appearance of apathy and isolation rather than coping with an illness.
Failing to wear clean clothes [typical of mentally ill prisoners] results in odor control and sometimes nudity for hours as the cell is “cleaned and searched” to ensure staff safety. The throwing of feces or other objects escalates into more violence and the prisoner always loses as he has no place to go or hide inside his cell. Refusing to come out may cause him to be exposed to a pepper ball gun that will sting him into submission. Since the use of Tasers is mostly prohibited on mentally ill prisoners it gives them a slight protection against the abuse of such devices. In some states, the use of K9 cell extraction dogs is also prohibited but unless someone consults with mental health, the chance that the Taser and the K9 are used is high and probable to avoid injuries to staff involved and the often recognized fact that mentally ill prisoners are not always properly identified and treated or housed as such.
Using power cleaners like those for a car wash in the driveway, the cells are cleaned to decontaminate the feces and urine off the walls and metal bars as it is hoped some considerate correctional officer bothered to take the prisoner’s personal property out of the cell before spraying the entire cell area with water ruining any electronic device or legal papers stored or contained in their cardboard boxes. The abuses are common and unfortunately unpreventable until such time when all staff act in good faith and receive better training. As illustrated, most violent episodes are escalated or enlarged by ill trained or abusive correctional officers who don’t understand or don’t take the time to understand the concept of therapeutic seclusion versus solitary confinement.
The majority of abuses are likely not reported nor spoken of as the code of silence protects both the guilty and the innocent. The ones that are reported are often caught on surveillance cameras or the injuries were of such extent it required hospitalization and a follow up investigation. The fact that many such misconduct is not reported, the facts of the prisoner’s conduct is often exaggerated and justified as being anti social or non compliant. The injection of mental health issues often comes at the end of such conversations or reviews if at all. The authority officers have over prisoners empowers them to misbehave and take matters into their own hands. Realistically, this involves about ten per cent of the work force distributed equally on any shifts at any institution.
The biggest abuse in my opinion is the administration’s failure to separate the socio- path from the mentally ill prisoners. Their learned behaviors by copying the sociopaths leads to more conflicts and often into self harm or suicidal attempts as they are misguided by those who take the pleasure of seeing someone else in pain of suffering. Therefore, if mental health treatment is to work, it should not be done in the mix or proximity of other prisoners not classified to have mental health issues but rather social or anti-social behaviors. Personality disorders and other manipulative conduct often festers crisis inside maximum security as they get bored and want to “light up the place” with their own sense of humor and excitement. These predators can be very influential to the mentally ill who are their targets of fun often.
Last but not least is the most common abuse of all inside a prison. The administration’s failures to provide adequate protection to ensure the civil rights of their prisoners are intact and protected. The American Disability Act applies to the prison setting and is often ignored by misinterpreting the intent or purpose. The ADA act is not just about physical plant accommodations or access to buildings but rather, it focuses on the rights of those with mental disorders or learning impairments who are deliberately discriminated against because of their “abnormality” inside their prisons. Too many times are prisoners ADA qualified but unidentified [as such] prisoners thus eliminated or found ineligible for good programs or employment due to their lack of assumed compression levels (observed not tested) thus punished repeatedly by staff. This results in them being idle and often creating mischief as a child left attended alone at times.The administration’s answer to these problematic incorrigibles is to reclassify or transfer them to another unit or punish them with repeated disciplinary tickets and evelate their scores in their risk assessments. The eventual disposition for such repeat offenders are placements in a more restrictive environment ideally set up for conditions of isolation that promote self-mutilations, suicide attempts, destruction of their personal property or state property and elevated into the segregation or maximum custody status.
These actions alone creates a mass hording of mentally ill prisoners in solitary confinement or maximum custody where they are at risk the most and are likely to be identified to be a high suicide risk or become a suicide victim. This attitude and practice must stop immediately to save lives and treat those who need help with their coping skills and comprehension of the administration’s expectations to comply and to follow the rules and regulations.