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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Mental Illness at Rikers Island

The New York Times recently published an editorial stemming from recently acquired statistics about the number of individuals incarcerated at Rikers Island who are experiencing mental illness.

You can read the article below, and linked here: The Mentally Ill, Behind Bars

The Mentally Ill, Behind Bars

Mayor Bill de Blasio and his new correction commissioner, Joseph Ponte, have inherited a city jail system in which nearly 40 percent of the 12,000 inmates have mental illnesses — up from about a quarter just seven years ago. Yet despite the stark shift, the system has not been redesigned to serve the complex needs of inmates with mental illnesses.
 
To remedy this shameful problem, the mayor and the commissioner need to focus on three areas: improving mental health care behind bars; ensuring that all mentally ill inmates are enrolled in Medicaid before they are released, so they have access to care and medication; and encouraging the growth of an important new program that steers mentally ill people who present no danger to the public into mental health programs instead of jail.
 
The full scope of this problem was outlined two years ago in a study of the city jails by the Council of State Governments Justice Center, a research and policy group. The study found that inmates with mental disabilities cost three times as much as other inmates, and that their numbers were growing, even as the city jail population as a whole was declining.
 
The study also found that mentally ill inmates stay in jail nearly twice as long — an average of 112 days compared with 61 days — partly because the mentally ill have less money to put toward bail and fewer connections to family or friends willing to get them out.
 
The perils these people face behind bars are underscored by two recent cases involving mentally ill people who died while detained on Rikers Island, one of the largest jails in the country. A corrections officer was charged in March by federal prosecutors with violating the civil rights of a 25-year-old prisoner, Jason Echevarria, for refusing to help when Mr. Echevarria pleaded for medical care after swallowing the toxic contents of a soap packet in his cell.
 
The other case involved a 56-year-old man who was arrested on trespassing charges in February and died soon afterward. The inmate, Jerome Murdough, was being held in the mental-observation unit and was supposed to be checked every 15 minutes as part of a suicide watch but had been left alone for hours when he was found dead in his cell.

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