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How Non-Treatment Behind Bars Can Breed Tragedy

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(August 11, 2014) Travis Fendley, 24, confessed to killing his grandmother the day after he was released from jail, but family members say non-treatment for his schizophrenia while he was incarcerated is to blame for the tragedy (“Judge: Mentally ill Fresno man will stand trial for killing grandmother,” the Fresno Bee, July 31).

travisfendleyAs a result of "bizarre" behavior, Fendley was committed to an emergency psychiatric evaluation by police following his confession. While previously in jail, he was twice hospitalized for his psychiatric symptoms because he was not psychiatrically competent to stand trial. He has now been ordered to stand trial for murder in his 78-year-old grandmother’s death.

“He was sick and he needed help,” his aunt told the Bee. She and Fendley’s defense attorney said the killing could have been prevented had Fendley received proper medication before being released from jail.

The Treatment Advocacy Center in April published “The treatment of persons with mental illness in prisons and jails,” the first national survey of mental illness treatment practices behind bars. The study found there are now 10 times more individuals with severe psychiatric disease in prisons and jails than in state psychiatric beds, and many receive no treatment.

Fendley was a key figure in a 2013 Bee investigation of treatment provided to mentally ill inmates in the county’s jails. The report found that inmates with mental illness left the jails “in worse shape than when they were taken into custody” in Fresno County. The Treatment Advocacy Center study reached the same conclusion nationwide.

Jails and prisons were never intended to be mental health facilities. As long as they are used as such, tragedies such as the Fendley family experienced will remain common.  

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Washington State Makes Psychiatric Boarding Illegal

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(Aug. 7, 2014) Sharp decreases in psychiatric beds spurred by deinstitutionalization have turned emergency rooms across the country into warehouses for people with mental illness in crisis.

hospital-bed-generic“Psychiatric boarding” is the sanitized term for keeping psych patients waiting in the ER for days, or sometimes months, because no hospital beds are available. But the Washington Supreme Court just made this practice illegal, according to the Seattle Times (State Supreme Court: Dumping mentally ill in emergency rooms illegal,” Aug. 7).

Warehousing patients like this has had far reaching consequences, leaving fewer ER beds available for the public while psychiatric patients do not get the timely and necessary medical care they would have received in a treatment facility.

“The practice traumatizes thousands of mentally ill residents, wreaks havoc on hospitals, and wastes millions of taxpayer dollars,” the Seattle Times has said.

Aside from the suffering and deferred care, psychiatric boarding is expensive. One hospital lost $4 million in revenue because emergency room beds were occupied by people with mental illness who were waiting for a psych bed to open, according to a survey from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Washington’s decision that patients cannot be warehoused in ER rooms is a humanitarian one, but it also means that authorities will have to find a suitable treatment facility for people in a psychiatric crisis.

Currently, the state only has 34 percent of the beds necessary to meet the needs of its population with severe mental illness. To ensure that patients in a psychiatric crisis receive proper treatment and hospitals don’t send patients back to the streets, or worse, the state must begin to restore inpatient facilities so that there are beds available for people when they need them.

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Video Shows Brutality Toward Mentally Ill Inmate

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(Aug. 6, 2014) Disturbing new footage from a Denver prison depicts corrections officials using extreme force on a prisoner with mental illness, according to the Colorado Independent (“Videos show brutal treatment of prisoners with mental illness,” Aug. 1).

jail brutalityIn the video obtained by the Colorado Independent, Isaiah Moreno, a prisoner on suicide watch, is shown repeatedly slamming his head against a concrete wall.

The corrections officers on duty are shown entering Moreno’s cell with Taser guns and shocking Moreno until he is motionless on the floor. The officers proceed to strap the motionless inmate to a restraint chair strap him to a restraint chair and leave his cell, the video shows. The footage is from September 2013. Watch the graphic video here.

Perhaps most disturbingly, the brutality occurred at the order Sergeant Ned Germain.

“Sergeant Germain gave the order when the inmate was not physically resisting at the time or immediately before the order was given,” according to the institution’s discipline report. “Moreover, Moreno was not posing a threat to himself or others.”

“They went way beyond the force needed to handle a sick person who’s obviously confused and dazed,” Mike Roque, executive director of the Colorado Progressive Coalition told the Colorado Independent. “How many times does this have to happen? How many videotapes like this have to come out before changes are made?”

Indeed, stories like these are becoming all too common in the media. But until real changes are made to our civil commitment laws to ensure that people with severe mental illness stay out of jail the first place, we will continue to see untrained corrections and law enforcement personnel working on the frontlines of mental health.

Read our previous blog about brutality toward mentally ill inmates at Rikers Island in New York.

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I Am Tired and Angry – personally speaking

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(August 5, 2014) I am angry and I am tired. In a four day span in Helena, two of our young citizens lost their lives due to the consequences of serious mental illnesses. 

fatherOne was a beloved son and father whose family will wonder every day for the rest of their lives what they could have done to prevent this tragedy. The other was a former neighbor who was a babysitter for our two sons many years ago. 

Deaths like these remind me that psychiatric diseases are very treatable but not the way our system functions today.

Effective treatments can help improve functioning and allow some people with severe mental illness to begin the road to recovery and re-integrate with their families and communities. But we are still waiting for better antipsychotics that genuinely change the course of the illness and help people avoid some of the major side effects. 

The way I see it, this won’t happen because I live in a world that does not recognize serious mental illness as a legitimate disease and there is no push for better and more effective medicines for the most seriously ill. 

I am angry that people in a psychiatric crisis cannot access respectful, thoughtful, compassionate and caring treatment. I am angry that our jails and prisons are overwhelmed with people suffering from serious mental illnesses. I am angry that there are more people in prison with mental illness because there are no inpatient beds when they become sick and very few treatment options. I am angry at our elected officials, public health servants and mental health professionals who tell me that they understand the problem but don’t do anything to improve the situation.

I am angry at families that do not recognize mental illness or advocate for their family members who are suffering.  I am angry at people who live with serious mental illnesses and - maybe because of shame and discrimination – don’t try to access treatment. 

Finally, I am tired of attending funerals for the children of families who have been lost due to serious mental illnesses. 

Remember, the enemy is the illness.

Dr. Gary Mihelish
President of NAMI Helena

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Patient Says Laura’s Law Worked for Her

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(Aug. 1, 2014) After burning down a local hotel during a suicide attempt in 2012, Pattie Jill Radabaugh, 51, was ordered into treatment for her schizophrenia by a judge in Nevada County, California (“A pioneering county test the limits of Laura’s Law,” the Fresno Bee, July 30).

parentslostchildAs a participant in court-ordered outpatient treatment, also called “Laura’s Law,” Radabaugh admits she initially did not enter the treatment program willingly. But now, 4 years later, she lives in a shared home with other people who have severe mental illness and volunteers at a local animal shelter.

“I ruined an apartment building. I’m not proud of that,” Radabaugh told the Fresno Bee. But the assisted outpatient treatment program showed her that “somebody cares.”

My next goal is to get a job, she said.

But for other families living elsewhere in California, it is too late.

George and Carol Allen, residents of Tulare County believe that Laura’s Law could have saved their son’s life, had a judge been able to order him into outpatient treatment. Their son, James Allen, 25, was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and had a long history of violent behavior and a suicide attempt.

But Tulare County is one of 52 counties that hasn’t implemented Laura’s Law. So rather than being in treatment, James was shot by police after threatening his mother.

While it is unknown whether Laura’s Law would have saved Allen’s life, Radabaugh certainly believes it saved hers.

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