The Mentally Ill in Prison and Out-patient Commitment Laws

Dear Pam,

Thank you for the link to the Dr. Manny Show. There are indeed many faces of mental illness. Some people have mild cases and are able to work and function at the same level as anyone else.

Congress passed mental health legislation in 2008 providing for workers who have psychiatric dysfunctions to be covered under their employers’ health insurance at the same rate as employees with physical illness (certain exclusions apply). That was a positive step. However, acute mental patients do not benefit by that law, because severe mental illness is often too debilitating for victims to work, especially without the psychiatric treatment they need. In fact, people with acute schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, PTSD, and other conditions frequently resist treatment even when it is available to them.

Unfortunately, 1.25 million mentally ill Americans are currently imprisoned for offenses ranging from simple vandalism or disturbing the peace to murders. Last January, Rep. Eddie Johnson (D-TX 30) introduced H.R. 619, a congressional bill to resume Medicaid coverage for inpatient psychiatric care for patients in crisis and for people who require long-term containment in a secure treatment environment (such as patients who have done violence).

H.R. 619 is an important bill that deserves our support. It was largely the removal of Medicaid funding several decades ago that led to criminalizing mental illness. That in turn led to many other problems, such as overcrowded prisons and a burdensome prison budget. Hundreds of thousands of acute patients were “de-institutionalized” in the 60’s and 70’s only to become homeless and/or prisoners. Thousands of acute mental patients continue to be dismissed from mental hospitals and prisons without subsistence assistance and provisions for continuous monitoring and treatment under programs like Kendra’s Law.

Assisted Outpatient Programs like Kendra’s Law have been proved to reduce homelessness, arrests, hospitalizations, and incarcerations by up to 85% (among New York participants, compared to their circumstances three years before becoming program participants). The impressive rate of reduced arrests and incarcerations also indicates that community safety was improved significantly as less crime was done, and it also follows that the prison budget was lessened by helping patients with living arrangements and mandating continuous psychiatric care for ex-offenders and former inpatients who often lack the wherewithal to make wise treatment choices and avoid psychiatric crises.

Assistance to the Incarcerated Mentally Ill (AIMI) supports Rep. Johnson’s bill, H.R. 619, as well as NAMI, Treatment Advocacy Center, and many other mental health advocates who believe resuming funding for inpatient treatment is best for patients and for America. In fact, 100% of police officers I polled agree that prison is not the place for severe mental patients, where they comprise 60% of the inmates kept naked in solitary confinement cells.

I solute Congresswoman Johnson, a former psychiatric nurse, for introducing H.R. 619, and I hope everyone who is concerned about human and civil rights will support the bill and end the discriminatory practice of punishing Americans for being sick. I pray for another bill to be introduced to address the second cause of mental illness having been criminalized in America – the lack of continuous care and subsistence assistance for released prisoners and former inpatients. Kendra’s Law should be applied nationwide so that acute mental patients will be treated, not punished, for having a common, treatable health condition that requires monitoring and care just as diabetics and heart patients receive.

Inpatient hospitalization was not included under the national health care plan, so it is very important to pass H.R.619 as a separate bill. Please write an email to your representatives tomorrow and ask them to co-sponsor the resumption of Medicaid for psychiatric hospitalization and to institute Assisted Outpatient Treatment progams, which would not only be more fair and humane to sick people and their families, but would also save taxpayers billions each year as our prison rolls decrease.

Thank you, Pam, for this forum and for the useful information that WagBlog always has. I will share the link to the Dr. Manny Show with many people at my Care2 Sharebook and at FreeSpeakBlog, where we often publish mental health news as well as other matters that have to do with promoting human rights for prisoners.

Mary Neal
Assistance to the Incarcerated Mentally Ill
http://www.Care2.com/c2c/group/AIMI

PS Please VOTE for H.R.619 to replace prisons w/ hospitals for acute mental patients. The link below will take you to OpenCongress.org where you can use your voice to say to our elected officials, “We care about the least of these, His brethren: naked, sick prisoners.” (Matt.25:36) http://www.opencongress.org/bill/111-h619/show

While many Americans celebrate the health care reform bill’s victory, please agree that millions of citizens should not be left imprisoned or live under the threat of prison because their health care needs were omitted. Put the “NATIONAL” into health care reform by supporting H.R.619: Medicaid funding for psychiatric hospitals instead of prison cells for mentally challenged people – a change that will save money and restore lives!

Thanks in advance for voting. Please invite others!

___________________________________________________

Dear Mary

I think you know that I was quite ill until starting in 1996 when Zyprexa came out, but not truly until 2005,  when a complete transformation occurred. However, when I relapse, I “relapse good” — as my medical record from the October hospitalization attests, with nearly constant locked seclusion or restraints for 6-8 days etc. Nevertheless, I am with you, though reluctantly, as I also know how terrible the side effects are of some of the older medications are as well as the newer ones, and the horrible state of affairs when a harried or burned out psychiatrist simply rams them down your throat without consultation at least after the acute psychosis resolves and you are able to discuss such things.

When I was in Manchester Hospital, I begged to be put back on my anti-convulsants and the Abilify/Geodon combination that had served me well for many months, believing, with reason, that I was suffering from a flare-up of my neurological Lyme disease, an illness that had always and invariably produced severe psychiatric symptoms. I needed, I knew, an increase of those drugs rather than a wholesale change to the “old drug” Trilafon. But did the doctor listen to me? No, he did not, despite my  ability to say as much to him, my psychosis consisting not of incoherence but of paranoia and command hallucinations to  harm myself in order to atone for being the Devil…I could and did argue with him, vehemently, and steadfastly, refusing to take the Trilafon, until he instituted a standing restraints order for every time I was non-compliant.

These are the sorts of things that trouble me about  forced treatment and/or outpatient commitment laws. It is not that I think people suffering from severe psychiatric illness do not need or deserve treatment, only that the treatments available are not always effective or tolerable. And until they are, I am not sure that the only way to go is only to force medication on everyone willy-nilly, not, at least against their protestations of extreme discomfort. At the very least every effort must be made to find a medication or medication combo that keep the psychosis at bay while making the person as comfortable as is humanely possible…which is difficult when a psychiatrist is saddled with a hundred patients to see in a week. It took Dr O and me six years or more to find  the right combination of drugs, and to titrate them precisely enough to treat my symptoms,  reducing them significantly while keeping unpleasant side effects to a minimum.

There is much about the treatment of the mentally ill that is so disgusting I cannot begin to cover them all here, though your comment is very thorough, which is why I have put it up  as a regular post. I appreciate your links to sites that do so as well. You did not mention one horrific situation: where under-utilized supermax prisons now house “uncooperative mentally ill prisoners” whose lack of compliance or cooperation is due solely to their illness. Though it is well-known that such brutal conditions drive “normal” or reasonably sane prisoners to insanity, can you imagine the brutality of forcing a psychotic individual to reside in such isolation? (Note however that in years past, as you know, isolation and seclusion of disruptive patients in hospitals was also the norm, since “overstimulation” from the outside world was considered to cause their agitation…I have been in hospitals where, in bare seclusion rooms, I was not permitted access to letters or phone calls, visitors or even reading material. As for restraints, they too were inhumane as I was shackled SPREAD- EAGLE, to the four corners of the bed and not, as even then was considered proper, with my legs straight and my arms in position by my side. This treatment moreover was considered normative for agitated psychotic patients rather than cruel in the extreme  as recently as the 1980s in some municipal hospitals in Connecticut.

I  recommend the book, THE DAY THE VOICES STOPPED, by the late Ken Steele, who wrote of his experience as a 14 year old with the savage isolation policies in NY hospitals in the 60s and 70s,  treatment that today seems literally incredible.

Well, I thank you for your contribution to my blog, Mary. You are welcome here at any time. I will post as many of your comments as I can.

Sincerely,

Pam W

3 thoughts on “The Mentally Ill in Prison and Out-patient Commitment Laws”

  1. Thanks, Pam. I want to make a CLARIFICATION:

    H.R.619 is not a bill for AOT programs. H.R.619 is a congressional bill that proposes amending Title XIX of the Social Security Act to remove the exclusion for hospitalization for people with mental diseases. In other words, middle-class and indigent people who have mental illness would be afforded the same opportunity to be treated in hospitals that people with physical illnesses have. H.R.619 would help eliminate the discriminatory practice of imprisoning mentally dysfunctional people for being sick, because they would have access to hospitals instead. Therefore, voting for H.R.619 is only a vote for equal access to health care (hospitalization coverage) for mental illness. AOT programs are a totally separate issue, and there is no provision for them under H.R. 619. H.R.619 is simply funding for hospitalization. Many people worked hard to pass the national health care plan, and previously uninsured people with chronic medical conditions will now be able to get the treatment they need. H.R.619 is a bill to provide people with mental dysfunctions hospitalization coverage, also. That is all.

    Regarding AOTs, I believe that the 85% success rate experienced by Kendra’s Law program participants is reason to enact that program nationwide, but that is a totally seperate issue from H.R.619.

    Victoria, thanks for your comments about the violence that mentally ill people often face. See my website to learn about the death of my own brother, who was a lifelong schizophrenic heart patient – http://WrongfulDeathOfLarryNeal.com

    Thanks for your comments!

  2. What a great post! I agree completely that prison is not the proper place for people with mental illness.
    Here in Oregon, there has been a rise in the mistreatment of those with mental illness by police officers. In fact – Just this week, a man was shot and killed after he told officers he needed mental health treatment.
    Also – a few years ago there was a very public case involving a man by the name of James Chasse. He had schizophrenia, & was tasered and beaten to death by Portland Police. (all captured on video)
    It is still a very controversial subject around here…
    Well, I didn’t mean to off on a rant – I just wanted to let you know that I really enjoyed this post!

    ~Victoria

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