Actually, we woke up to the news program Democracy Now! , which ran two stories involving an often unspoken of crisis of mental illness in the United States, namely when it strikes the poor/indigent communities. (and frequently, communities of color.)
One of the stories was a deeper exposé on Rikers Island, which I have blogged about here in the past. The story mentioned the deaths of both Jerome Murdough and Jason Echevarria, and also discussed the practice of placing mentally ill inmates in solitary confinement. One of the guests, who had been incarcerated there and was now a prison rights activist, spoke of solitary confinement & other tortures at Rikers, involving sensory or light deprivation. (Do I really need to point out TW for discussions of such?)
The other story discussed the outrage in Albequerque, New Mexico, over the police shooting of James Boyd, a homeless man with a diagnosis of schizophrenia, who had set up an campsite in an area that did not permit it. This shooting has sparked protests in Albequerque against police brutality, some leading to further violence.
The show also pointed out that the three largest mental health facilities in the U.S. are currently all in prisons. Things may vary from state to state here, but in New York at least, the cutting of various social services has made it more difficult for those in the lower classes to get treatment. It took me quite some time to get into the program I’m currently in. Should circumstances lead to someone with mental illness ending up on the streets, the solution is often to bring them to jail, sometimes even for something as innocuous as seeking shelter from the elements, as was the case with Jerome Murdough.
Now apparently James Boyd had a history of prior physical assault charges, many of which landed him in New Mexico’s State psychiatric facility, sometimes for treatment, other times merely to get him declared fit to stand trial. The question I have is if more preventative treatment could have circumvented his violent urges altogether? Genuine treatment, not a quick fix to send someone to trial?
One final thing I read on this today, in one of the papers in my programs waiting room, is that there’s a new head at Rikers and the Mayor DeBlasio is looking to reinstate some of the mental health social services that were cut by his predecessor. Will any of this amount to some positive changes? Only time will tell.