Texas Department of Criminal Justice went before the the Sunset Advisory Committee this week to defend their agency, and mental illness was part of the dialogue, thanks to the heroic efforts of Democratic senator John Whitmire, dean of the Texas Senate.
Texas prisons are defacto mental institutions that punish people who have problems. Whitmire gets that, and he keeps the issue at the center of the table where he slams his big fist down.
He told TDCJ they could solve overcrowding if they’d stick to their own guidelines regarding low-risk non-violent offenders. Quit revoking folks for technical violations. Treat the alcoholics, and leave hard time for predators and other dangerous criminals. He demanded Criminal Justice give the legislature a treatment component, and asked for a frank justification for leaving the system as it is now.
He asked the director of TDCJ where he got his recommendations: Who analyzes gang trends, recidivism, geriatric issues, what component makes up the think tank part of your organization? Who is reviewing specific changes made in 2003 concerning treatment reduction? “We need some track record from TDCJ to show you’re not just a holding tank,” Whitmire stated. “Most of your recommendations are about paying bills and keeping the electricity running; I’m looking for policy and the impact of policy.”
Pardons and Paroles said they are reviewing their procedures and named a member of the National Institute of Mental Health as a resource in revising guidelines that determine release. Senator Whitmire called current guidelines ineffective and unjust, claiming that some people are treated more harshly than others.
“Individuals are getting longer sentences than others for the same infractions in different Texas cities. What’s more, the amount of time given is influenced by previous incarcerations the individual has already served their time for. We’re keeping ex-offenders on probation ten years to get their money, demanding monthly appearances, getting into their lives, for 40 dollars a month, and it should be widely known that this is done not for public safety, but to finance probation departments.”
He pointed out that the Texas prison population is 1.5 times the size of Waco, and the fact that a doctor sees 60 patients before noon tells him the inmates are not receiving constitutional care.
The numbers of old, feeble and terminally sick are increasing at a rate of 10.5% per year. Sunset needs to make this a priority, he said. These inmates are a tremendous cost to the state and they are no threat to anyone. Put a GPS ankle bracelet on them, let them live out their lives in nursing homes under Medicaid.
As the next panel was being seated and the TDCJ executives made their exit, the senator called out a request that the TDCJ staff stay and hear public testimony with the Sunset Commission because that’s how we learn. The members came back and took their seats to rousing applause of the crowd.
This guy is worth a madcrush from every strarcrossed activist un-tamed on two feet.
A few other highlights:
An associate of Sister Helen Prejean testified about the prison health care system for female inmates, claiming that guards get their jollies by humiliating women with strip searches, that medical treatment is withheld by whim, and health services are used in a reward/punishment fashion.
Act Up! cited the governor’s blighted ignorance in refusing to provide condoms for inmates as the reason HIV remains the leading cause of death in prison.
ACLU thanked the Sunset Commission for every recommendation but the one about reducing capacity. The witness said they should focus instead on treatment and own up to the fact that population growth does not drive prison population, policy does.
The Sunset recommendations boil down to 108 million dollars next year on mental health treatment and rehab programs for inmates. Looks like they’re putting the money where their mouth is, now they need to define what they mean by “treatment.”
Overall it was a good time. I felt hopeful and elevated. Got home and found this goddamn NYTimes story in my inbox courtesy of Kathi at Toddlertime:
CHICAGO, Nov. 14 — Shackled to a concrete slab, Timothy Joe Souders spent the final days of his life naked and lying in his own urine, sweating through temperatures higher than 100 degrees in an isolated prison cell.
Mr. Souders, 21, with a history of severe mental illness, died on Aug. 6 after four days in a segregation cell at the Southern Michigan Correctional Facility in Jackson. His death led prison officials to revise restraint policies for unruly prisoners, limiting “top of the bed” restraints to a maximum of six hours.
This week, a federal judge in Kalamazoo, Mich., said the revisions were not enough. Scolding officials for failing to provide adequate treatment to mentally ill inmates, the judge said Monday that the conditions leading to Mr. Souders’s death constituted “torture.”
“You are not coat racks who collect government paychecks while your work is taken to the sexton for burial,” Richard A. Enslen, a senior federal district judge, wrote. “If a patient does not receive necessary medical or psychological services, including medicines and specialty care, it is not his problem, it is your problem.”
Judge Enslen ordered an immediate ban on punitive restraints in three Jackson prisons holding 4,500 inmates. The court has been monitoring those prisons as part of a 1985 consent decree.
Mr. Souders, who suffered from depression and psychosis and had previously tried to hang himself at a county jail, was serving a sentence for shoplifting.
At his death, Mr. Souders was taking at least six medications for mental disorders.
On July 31, he was transferred to the segregated cell for disobeying orders. Three days later, after slipping out of soft restraints, Mr. Souders was restrained on the concrete slab.
Though Mr. Souders had been scheduled for a transfer to a mental health center after a social worker had found him “floridly psychotic,” the transfer never proceeded, and on Aug. 6, he was pronounced dead.
A court-appointed doctor visiting the prison on Aug. 8 learned of Mr. Souders’s death. The doctor, Robert L. Cohen, wrote in an Aug. 14 letter to Judge Enslen: “No psychiatrist was consulted. No emergency psychiatric evaluation was obtained.”
He concluded that Mr. Souders’s death “was predictable and preventable.”
Russell L. Marlan, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections, said the department disagreed with the ruling and planned to appeal. Top-of-the-bed restraints, Mr. Marlan said, are “nationally accepted, effective practices in correctional populations.”
That is the mentality. We will repeat the very life events that drove you insane in the first place, it’s your choice to be mad and our punishment will correct that.
This American boy’s torture and death at the hands of his government is not an isolated incident. There are innocent people within walking distance of you right now living the nightmare of absurd injustice Kafka only imagined in his famous wild stories. I know where he’d be today in this country. What I don’t know is how come so few people care.