As Americans we always make judgments on Human Rights in other countries. But, have you wondered about the Human Rights Violations in our own country? We incarcerate 2.3 million people and have well over 7 million under the Department of Corrections. Have you ever questioned how our incarceration rates have skyrocketed? Let’s take a little history journey.
The following is excerpted from “American Psychosis”
Beginning in the late 1950s, California became the national leader in aggressively moving patients from state hospitals to nursing homes and board-and-care homes, known in other states by names such as group homes, boarding homes, adult care homes, family care homes, assisted living facilities, community residential facilities, adult foster homes, transitional living facilities, and residential care facilities. Hospital wards closed as the patients left. By the time Ronald Reagan assumed the governorship in 1967, California had already deinstitutionalized more than half of its state hospital patients. That same year, California passed the landmark Lanterman-Petris-Short (LPS) Act, which virtually abolished involuntary hospitalization except in extreme cases. Thus, by the early 1970s California had moved most mentally ill patients out of its state hospitals and, by passing LPS, had made it very difficult to get them back into a hospital if they relapsed and needed additional care.
As early as 1969, a study of California board-and-care homes described them as follows:
These facilities are in most respects like small long-term state hospital wards isolated from the community. One is overcome by the depressing atmosphere. . . . They maximize the state-hospital-like atmosphere. . . . The operator is being paid by the head, rather than being rewarded for rehabilitation efforts for her “guests.”
The study was done by Richard Lamb, a young psychiatrist working for San Mateo County; in the intervening years, he has continued to be the leading American psychiatrist pointing out the failures of deinstitutionalization.
By 1975 board-and-care homes had become big business in California. In Los Angeles alone, there were “approximately 11,000 ex-state-hospital patients living in board-and-care facilities.” Many of these homes were owned by for-profit chains, such as Beverly Enterprises, which owned 38 homes. Many homes were regarded by their owners “solely as a business, squeezing excessive profits out of it at the expense of residents. Financial ties between the governor, who was emptying state hospitals, and business persons who were profiting from the process would also soon become apparent in other states.
California was the first state to witness not only an increase in homelessness associated with deinstitutionalization but also an increase in incarceration and episodes of violence. In 1972 Marc Abramson, another young psychiatrist working for San Mateo County, published a landmark paper entitled “The Criminalization of Mentally Disordered Behavior.” Abramson claimed that because the new LPS statute made it difficult to get patients admitted to a psychiatric hospital, police “regard arrest and booking into jail as a more reliable way of securing involuntary detention of mentally disordered persons.” Abramson quoted a California prison psychiatrist who claimed to be “literally drowning in patients. . . . Many more men are being sent to prison who have serious mental problems.” Abramson’s paper was the first clear description of the increase of mentally ill persons in jails and prisons, an increase that would grow markedly in subsequent years.
1980s: THE PROBLEMS BECOME NATIONAL
Until the 1980s, most people in the United States were unaware that the deinstitutionalization of patients from state mental hospitals was going terribly wrong. Some were aware that homicides and other untoward things were happening in California, but such things were to be expected, because it was, after all, California. President Carter’s Commission on Mental Health issued its 1978 report and recommended doing more of the same things—more CMHCs, more prevention of mental illness, and more federal spending. The report gave no indication of a pending crisis. The majority of patients who had been discharged from state hospitals in the 1960s and 1970s had gone to their own homes, nursing homes, or board-and-care homes; they were, therefore, out of sight and out of mind.
In the 1980s, this all changed. Deinstitutionalization became, for the first time, a topic of national concern. During the following decade, there were increasing concerns publicly expressed about mentally ill individuals in nursing homes, board-and-care homes, and jails and prisons. There were also periodic headlines announcing additional high-profile homicides committed by individuals who were clearly psychotic. But the one issue that took center stage in the 1980s, and directed public attention to deinstitutionalization, was the problem of mentally ill homeless persons.
During the 1980s, an additional 40,000 beds in state mental hospitals were shut down. The patients being sent to community facilities were no longer those who were moderately well-functioning or elderly; rather, they included the more difficult, chronic patients from the hospitals’ back wards. These patients were often younger than patients previously discharged, less likely to respond to medication, and less likely to be aware of their need for medication.
Media attention directed to homeless persons made it increasingly clear that many of them were, in fact, seriously mentally ill. In 1981, Life magazine ran a story titled “Emptying the Madhouse: The Mentally Ill Have Become Our Cities’ Lost Souls.” In 1984, a study from Boston reported that 38% of homeless persons in Boston were seriously mentally ill. The report was titled “Is Homelessness a Mental Health Problem?” and confirmed what people were increasingly beginning to suspect—that many homeless persons had previously been patients in the state mental hospitals.
In 1989, when a San Francisco television station wished to advertise its series on homelessness, it put up posters around the city saying, “You are now walking though America’s newest mental institution.” Psychiatrist Richard Lamb added: “Probably nothing more graphically illustrates the problems of deinstitutionalization than the shameful and incredible phenomenon of the homeless mentally ill.”
At the same time that mentally ill homeless persons were becoming an object of national concern during the 1980s, the number of mentally ill persons in jails and prisons was also increasing. A 1989 review of available studies concluded that “the prevalence rates for major psychiatric disorders . . . [in jails and prisons] have increased slowly and gradually in the last 20 years and will probably continue to increase.” Various studies reported rates ranging from 6% (Virginia) and 8% (New York) to 10% (Oklahoma and California) and 11% (Michigan and Pennsylvania). By 1990, a national survey concluded:
Given all the data, it seems reasonable to conclude that approximately 10 percent of inmates in prisons and jails, or approximately 100,000 individuals, suffer from schizophrenia or manic-depressive psychosis [bipolar disorder].
The author of “American Psychosis” by “closing institutions resulted not in better care – as was the aim – but in underfunded programs, neglect, and higher rates of community violence. Many now wonder why public mental illness services are so ineffective. At least one-third of the homeless are seriously mentally ill, jails and prisons are grossly overcrowded, largely because the seriously mentally ill constitute 20 percent of prisoners, and public facilities are overrun by untreated individuals. As Torrey argues, it is imperative to understand how we got here in order to move forward towards providing better care for the most vulnerable.”
I agree with this author. Considering the data was from 1990, let’s fast forward to 2015, year end of 2014. The numbers have skyrocketed. We don’t have the appropriate mental facilities, and now we have a prison for profit big business much like the board and care homes in 1975. This is a national problem. But each state is going to have to step in and do their part to combat this growing problem. It is our responsibility to do the right thing. These individuals are burdened enough having to deal with a mental illness without having a country that burdens and punishes them more.
Montana, let’s take a look at you.
Remember a prior article “The ACLU Accuses Montana State Prison Of Illegal Activities.”
According to the ACLU under Criminal Law Reform, The ACLU of Montana, on behalf of its client Disability Rights Montana, is challenging the treatment of prisoners with mental illness at Montana State Prison and the Montana State Hospital. A year-long investigation at those institutions revealed a pattern at Montana State Prison of withholding medication, misdiagnosing prisoners with a long history of mental illness, and punishing them for behavior caused by their mental illness. Prisoners with mental illness are routinely subjected to months or years of solitary confinement and “behavior modification plans” that deprive them of clothing, working toilets, bedding and proper food. This serves only to worsen their illness and cause needless suffering.
Bernadette Franks-Ongoy, executive director of Disability Rights Montana had this to say “In our investigation of the prison and its practices, we have uncovered shocking and inhumane treatment of people who are mentally ill.”
Her organization conducted a 16-month investigation into the two agencies, interviewing at least 50 prisoners from the Montana State Prison and looking through thousands of documents.
Disability Rights Montana sued seven top officials with both the state Departments of Corrections and Health and Human Services
Letter to DOC and DPHHS
The Helena Vigilante gives a startling in-depth account of the complaints.
Solitary Confinement is one way that prisons torture mentally ill inmates, even when they have provoked an outburst by not giving them the medication that is required.
According to Solitary Watch
What is solitary confinement?
Solitary confinement is the practice of isolating prisoners in closed cells for 22-24 hours a day, virtually free of human contact, for periods of time ranging from days to decades. Few prison systems use the term “solitary confinement,” instead referring to prison “segregation.” Some systems make a distinction between various reasons for solitary confinement. “Disciplinary segregation” is time spent in solitary as punishment for violating prison rules, and usually lasts from several weeks to several years. “Administrative segregation” relies on a system of classification rather than actual behavior, and often constitutes a permanent placement, extending from years to decades.
The number of people held in solitary confinement in the United States has been notoriously difficult to determine. The lack of reliable information is due to state-by-state variances and shortcomings in data gathering and in conceptions of what constitutes solitary confinement. However, a census of state and federal prisoners conducted in 2005 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics–and cited by the Vera Institute of Justice–found more than 81,622 people held in “restricted housing.” A widely accepted 2005 study found that some 25,000 of these segregated prisoners were being held in supermax prisons around the country.
That study was back in 2005! Can you imagine how it has increased in the past 10 years? Is solitary a form of torture?
What are the psychological effects of solitary confinement?
Following extensive interviews with people held in the SHU at Pelican Bay in 1993, Dr. Stuart Grassian found that solitary confinement induces a psychiatric disorder characterized by hypersensitivity to external stimuli, hallucinations, panic attacks, cognitive deficits, obsessive thinking, paranoia, and a litany of other physical and psychological problems. Psychological assessments of Pelican Bay’s solitary confined prisoners indicated high rates of anxiety, nervousness, obsessive ruminations, anger, violent fantasies, nightmares, trouble sleeping, as well as dizziness, perspiring hands, and heart palpitations.
In testimony before the California Assembly’s Public Safety Committee in August 2011, Dr. Craig Haney discussed the effects of solitary confinement: “In short, prisoners in these units complain of chronic and overwhelming feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and depression. Many people held in solitary become deeply and unshakably paranoid, and are profoundly anxious around and afraid of people (on those rare occasions when they are allowed contact with them). Some begin to lose their grasp on their sanity and badly decompensate.”
For more on the psychological effects of solitary confinement, see our fact sheet on the topic.
Are people with mental illnesses put in solitary confinement?
Yes, in large numbers. Over the past 30 years, prisons and jails have become the nation’s largest inpatient psychiatric centers, and solitary confinement cells, in particular, are now used to warehouse thousands of prisoners with mental illness.
Recognizing that solitary confinement worsens existing psychiatric conditions and causes severe suffering in prisoners with mental illness, several court decisions and pieces of legislation have been crafted to protect these prisoners. In New York, for example, the SHU Exclusion Law, which took effect in July 2011, mandates that prisoners with serious mental illnesses be diverted from solitary confinement units and instead be placed in residential mental health treatment units. The law has loopholes for “exceptional circumstances,” however, and critics charge that the diagnostic process is excluding many prisoners with mental illness from the law’s protections. A December 2011 hearing on the solitary confinement system highlighted a surge of suicides that have taken place despite reforms.
Definition of the Term “Human Rights” Human rights refer to fundamental and basic rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because he or she is a human being. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international treaties, they are known as being universal, inalienable, egalitarian, non-discriminatory and coherent. In this sense, human rights belong to all people everywhere around the world and no one may be denied these rights simply because one lives in a certain geographic area. All people are entitled to these rights as equally regardless of such factors as race, nationality, gender, etc. and nobody has privilege over the others in this matter.
It is not all hopeless, changes can be made. There are many advocates across our nation fighting for changes to be made. Here is a message from Pete Earley. Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform. My Message To Utah Legislators: Treatment Makes More Financial Sense Than Incarceration!
These are the bills being presented before the Montana Legislature as of right now!
Disability Rights Montana shares the following:
HB 33, 34, and 35 would expand support for Community Adult Mental Health Services Across Montana. DRM’s talking points on HB 33, 34, and 35.
Talking points include why Montana needs to invest in crisis services throughout Montana, why Montana needs to have regional stabilization facilities, and local services are not only a good idea, they are required by federal law.
HB 34 would appropriate money for additional secure psychiatric detention beds.
This bill would fund new programs to establish crisis response for adults with mental illness throughout the state. This program, first enacted in 2009, has been very successful, even though it has never been fully funded to the original intended $1.2 million.
Let’s hope for changes that are needed! Montana Legislatures, we are counting on you! You have the power to help make a difference in hundreds, even thousands of lives.