Mentally Ill Inmate Cannot Understand Why He Is Behind Bars


(July 31, 2014) Diego Dietche, a 26-year-old man with schizophrenia struggles to understand why he is behind bars, reports the Daily Astorian (“Jail struggles to house mentally ill,” July 25, 2014).

jail barbedwire“Undressed and covered in human waste,” Dietche was arrested in June for violating a stalking order.

But he won’t be transported to a mental health facility for at least another month – which is how long correctional officials estimate it will take for a bed to become available, said Deputy Stephen Johnson, who works at the Clatsop County Jail where Dietche is being held. “Right now, the mentally ill issue is worse than I have ever seen it. There's nowhere to put them and not a lot of options."

But it’s hard to get mentally ill inmates out of the jail and into a treatment facility.

“Once they get in here, it really becomes difficult to unturn the key,” said Clatsop County Sheriff Tom Bergin. “We have to go through the process of finding them a bed somewhere.”

Other employees of the jail also raised concerns. “The folks who are in jail who are suffering from mental illness are not getting the treatment that they need,” Shelley Morgan, Interim Jail Supervisor told the Daily Astorian. “It's a jail. It's not a mental health facility to treat folks. And while they are here waiting to get treatment, they're decompensating for days, weeks, months before they get back in front of a judge to get an evaluation ordered which takes, at minimum, 30 days."

Bergin is tired of his staff working as defacto mental health workers. “My deputies cannot be the caretakers for these individuals,” he said. “We need to get the mentally ill better help that they truly need from doctors and psychologists and psychiatrists, to get them back on their meds or off of whatever drug they may be on."

In the meantime, while waiting to get treatment for his mental illness, Dietche will continue to decompensate in his jail cell, covered in human waste.

For more about the treatment of prisoners with mental illness, Read our study, “The Treatment of Persons with Mental Illness in Prisons and Jails: A State Survey.”

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I Was Taken to Jail Instead of Treatment - personally speaking


(July 28, 2014) In my experience, being poor, homeless and African-American landed me in jail instead of in psychiatric treatment.

sakeenahfrancisI developed schizophrenia at age 25 and was put on medication. But shortly thereafter I stopped taking medicine because I was gaining a lot of weight and felt tired all the time. I abandoned my middle-class family and moved into my own house. But without my medication I was unable to take care of myself. My house deteriorated to the point where ants filled the kitchen. I wasn’t able to take care of myself so I thought it would be better to just leave the house. When I eventually decided to return home, the door was locked. I was homeless.

My voices told me I need to get out of town fast. So I climbed on top of a train that was halted for the evening, planning to catch a ride. Someone saw me and called the police. When the police came they didn't even talk to me. If they had spoken to me, they would have known that I was acting on my voices and in the middle of a psychotic episode.

They would have known immediately that I belonged in a psychiatric hospital, not a jail - which is where they took me. For the next 10 days I was with sex workers, a bank robber and a murderer. I was also still off my medicine, but nobody asked if I needed medicine and no doctor came to give me a psychiatric evaluation.

When I am off medicine I have a quick temper so it wasn't long before I got into my first fight inside the jail. I stood in the face of another inmate and told her she was taking too much of the mirror. It never would have happened if I had been on my medicine. The next thing I knew, I was on the floor fighting with the ladies cheering us on.

This might never have happened if the criminal justice system didn't assume that black homeless people are criminals, when actually a lot of us just need treatment.

Author of Love's All That Makes Sense
Living with Schizophrenia


How Many People with Serious Mental Illness Are Homeless?


(July 25, 2014) “Anyone walking the streets is familiar with the problem of lost souls too disoriented to take care of themselves,” the Los Angeles Times editorial board wrote in an appeal for Laura’s Law. “Though many mental patients seek treatment, others refuse and wind up drifting on the streets, a risk to themselves and others (“Laura’s Law at last for SF,” June 24).”

homelessness-feetApproximately one-third of the total homeless population includes individuals with serious, untreated mental illnesses according to a research summary compiled by the Treatment Advocacy Center.

The Treatment Advocacy Center’s newly updated backgrounder, “How many individuals with a serious mental illness are homeless” examines the percentage of homeless individuals with serious mental illness and their abysmal quality of life.

  • Approximately 33 percent of the homeless are individuals with serious mental illnesses that are untreated;
  • Many of these people suffer from schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder or major depression;
  • The homeless population has increased steadily in cities and small towns since the 1970s;
  • In Massachusetts and Ohio, 27 and 36 percent of people released from mental institutions became homeless within 6 months;
  • Previously hospitalized people were three times more likely to obtain food from the garbage;
  • Studies show that psychotic individuals are much more likely to get assaulted or threatened while homeless;

Though officials believe that they are saving money by releasing patients from mental hospitals, there is a significant cost to the patient and to society at large.  “In 2001, a University of Pennsylvania study that examined 5,000 homeless people with mental illnesses in New York City found that they cost taxpayers an average of $40,500 a year for their use of emergency rooms, psychiatric hospitals, shelters and prisons.”

Though homelessness is an accepted part of the urban landscape for city dwellers in public spaces, there are many individuals who suffer and go unnoticed. A substantial number of the psychiatrically ill live in the outskirts of cities, under bridges and even tunnels that carry subway trains beneath cities.

As states continue to close down psychiatric facilities, there will be an increasing number of individuals with serious mental illness who are homeless. In Seattle in 2013, the mayor called the number of untreated mentally ill people on the street “an emergency.” Unless local and national measures are taken to protect and treat the mentally ill, this trend will likely continue well into the future.
For access to more of our backgrounders, which summarize information about severe mental illness, policies and programs related to its treatment, and the consequences of lack of treatment, visit the “Reports, Studies, Backgrounders” page on our website.

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RESEARCH: States that Deny Best Antipsychotics to Patients Have More Mentally Ill Behind Bars


(July 24, 2014) When Medicaid tries to save money by restricting access to the most effective antipsychotics for people with severe mental illness, more mentally ill people end up in jail, according to new research from the American Journal of Managed Care (“AJMC Study Finds Medicaid Barriers to the Right Drugs May Cause More with Schizophrenia to Land Behind Bars,” July 22).

jail barbedwiregraphicThe antipsychotics, called “atypical antipsychotics,” have been associated with lower rates of relapse in people with schizophrenia. Using data from 16,844 prison inmates, researchers found that restricting access to atypical antipsychotics – Medicaid must review the prescription before covering it – was associated with a 22 percent increase in the likelihood that a person with severe mental illness would end up behind bars.

“The United States spends $8.5 billion each year on persons with severe psychiatric disorders in jails and prisons,” the authors said in a statement. “The prison system is an expensive way to deal with mental illness, especially when many of those incarcerated are nonviolent.”

This study comes at a time when jails and prisons are facing increased scrutiny for their treatment of mentally ill prisoners and states are under pressure to enact policies that keep people with serious mental illness out of the criminal justice system.

This scrutiny makes sense. Criminalizing people with severe mental illness is a human rights violation and costs taxpayers money. An investigation by USA Today found that a 94-day incarceration cost $30,258, whereas a full year of housing, disability income, and treatment for a person with a serious mental illness was just $31,200.

“Limiting access to effective therapy may save states some Medicaid money in the short run,” said lead author Dana Goldman, director of the Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics at the University of Southern California. “But the downstream consequences -- including more people in prisons and more criminal activity -- could be a bad deal for society."

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“Mental Illness Cases Swamp Criminal Justice System”


(July 23, 2014) Police encounters with people with severe mental illness are the subject of USA Today’s latest article in a series on the human and financial costs of abandoning the seriously ill (“Mental illness cases swamp criminal justice system,” July 21). Excerpted below:

mentallyillwomanInside a cluttered downtown apartment that she shares with a cat, the 57-year-old woman is in the midst of a near-meltdown.

“There's three of them,” she tells two police officers, referring to “these predators who won't leave me alone. Those sons of bitches won't let me go.“

The police have been here before — 61 times, in fact, in the past 17 months — and the only intruders to be found are the ones apparently stalking the woman's troubled psyche.

During these episodes, she always summons the police because they are the closest thing she has to family. And no matter what, they always come.

"I didn't have any choice but to go to Jimmy,'' she said, waving the glowing end of her lighted cigarette in the direction of Officer Jimmy Winters. “I'm sorry I'm such a pain in the ass.''

In the shadow of enormous wealth, where tourists flock to view the iconic mansions along Bellevue Avenue, about 40% of all calls to police involve people who are mentally ill or have behavioral problems. It is, as Newport Chief Gary Silva described it, an "alarming'' number. Yet it only begins to assess how an overwhelmed criminal justice system has become the de facto caretaker of Americans who are mentally ill and emotionally disturbed.

From police departments and prisons to courthouses and jails, the care of those who are mentally ill weighs heaviest on law enforcement authorities, many of whom readily acknowledge that they lack both resources and expertise to deal with the crushing responsibility.

Read the entire article in USA Today.

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