Cruelty to the Mentally Ill

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Do you know what goes on behind locked
doors at the Champaign County Satellite
Jail? You would probably be surprised to
find out. For people with serious mental
illnesses, the jail policies for dealing with
these people amount to cruelty. While in
custody, people are being segregated, isolated,
denied medications, and humiliated.
Instead of receiving the medical attention
they need to control their disease, they are
denied proper access to a psychiatrist and
taken off their medications. When they
become symptomatic, they are placed in
isolation. The guards call this isolation suicide
watch. They can be kept in isolation
for more than two weeks at a time.
This form of treatment is both cruel and
unnecessary punishment for the “crime” of
being mentally ill. Persons with serious
mental illness do not need to be locked
away. This is a practice that was done away
with decades ago in mental health facilities.
Our jail is still working in the dark ages. No
matter what reason a person is incarcerated,
he or she still has certain human rights.
Many who are in the custody of the jail
are there because they cannot pay the
bond that has been set for them. Some are
awaiting trial. Some are waiting for bed
space in a mental health facility for treatment
or evaluation. The majority of them
have not even been convicted of a crime
yet. They have no choice but to endure the
treatment they receive at the jail.
My brother, Timothy Coleman, lives
with a serious mental illness. He was incarcerated
at the jail from January to September
2010. The majority of his time there he
was awaiting bed space in a mental health
facility. During his stay there, he was able to
save up his medication, took an overdose,
and was hospitalized for three days. Upon
his return to the jail, he was placed on “suicide
watch.” He was placed in a cement cell
with no bed, no mattress, and no pillow.
The only thing he was given was a blanket.
He was taken off all of his medication and
was given an antidepressant, which he stated
did not work. He was left in this cell for
seventeen days, devoid of all human contact.
He was only released after begging and
pleading his case with the jail staff.
He was at the lowest point in his life.
He’d made a call for help with his suicide
attempt, but it was received by the guards
in the jail with a cruel form of punishment.
He was treated like someone who had committed
the worst possible crime and needed
to be segregated from the rest of the population.
Guards at the jail subjected him to
unfair practices and denied him medical
treatment for his symptoms.
According to Timothy, this sort of treatment
of persons with mental illness is
common among the staff of the Champaign
County Satellite Jail. He states that
when people are having symptoms there,
they are placed in isolation for long periods
of time like he was. He has witnessed
people kept in isolation for up to thirty
days. He sees that the guards do not want
to deal with symptomatic people, and this
is why they are placed in isolation.
These practices are patently wrong. People
need to know what is going on. We need
to stand up and go to bat for persons with
mental illness in our jails. In my brother’s
case, he never should have been able to save
up his medication in the first place. A nonnegligent
system would notice. The prisoners
are subject to the rules and policies of
the jail. They cannot speak up for themselves,
so we must speak up for them.
You may be asking yourself: “Why
should I care?” One in five people living in
America have a mental illness. Chances are
that you know or have known someone
with one. They are part of our community.
They have a medical disease that may pose
certain challenges in their lives, but they
are just like everyone else in their hopes
and dreams and human dignity. Only we
can speak up for them.

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