Virginia Inspector General Accused By Whistleblowers Of Misleading Me And Rubber Stamping Reports About Inmate Deaths

osig_color_logo_es(7-21-16) Did a Virginia official, whose job is to protect the public from dishonest government officials, lie to me?

A whistleblower complaint alleges that Virginia Inspector General June Jennings   provided me with false and misleading information. It also accuses Jennings and her assistant, Priscilla Smith, who is responsible for monitoring behavioral health agencies, of misleading state Sen. Creigh Deeds and other elected officials during testimony, and of violating HIPAA regulations when handling confidential medical information inside the Office of State Inspector General (OSIG).

Even more damning, the complaint claims the OSIG has failed to thoroughly investigate the deaths of prisoners with mental illnesses in Virginia’s jails and prisons, choosing instead to rubber stamp reports submitted to them by jailers and mental health officials.

The accusations are being levied by Cathy Hill, an OSIG employee who is seeking whistleblower protection, and two OSIG consultants, William Thomas and Ann White. In their complaint, which was filed yesterday, they asked Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring to launch a criminal investigation of the OSIG office to determine if Jennings and Smith have violated state and federal laws, writing:

It is our belief that their actions violate both Virginia and federal law, and undermine public trust and the mission of the OSIG. Our concerns have grown to the degree that we feel we can no longer in good faith remain silent. 

An email request for a reaction and comment by Jennings and Smith – that I sent yesterday – has gone unanswered.

Was I told a lie?

The complaint alleges that Jennings and an unnamed OSIG public relations officer hid information from me when I filed a Freedom of Information Act request.

But before I get to that accusation, let’s examine a much more troubling charge.

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From My Mail Bag: Readers Tell Their Stories in Books, Magazines, and Newspapers



(7-18-16) Four items from my mailbox.  A loyal reader of my blog, Rosemary Ross, describes her life-long struggles with mental illness in a book called Rescued from the Pit: Healing from Schizophrenia.  Another reader tells me about her son’s efforts to call attention to those with mental illness in Chicago’s Cook County jail. Jennifer Marshall writes that This Is My Brave is featured this month in Oprah Magazine and I plug a new non-fiction book called Show Me All Your Scars, which is a collection of 20 first person accounts written by individuals with mental illnesses.

Dear Pete. My name is Rosemary Ross. I have a story to tell about my mental illness. My first seven years were full of happiness, fortunately. The problem, however, was that my father had deserted my mother and me before I was born, and we lived with his father, my grandoo. I hated my father for not wanting me to be born, as my mother had told me.

When I was eight, Mother and I left Grandoo and moved across the country. There she met a man, and they married. I liked him at first, but his real personality came out when he attempted to sexually molest me.

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Juveniles Sent To Jail Ten Times More Likely To Be Trapped In System: Diversion Works Yet Some Virginia Legislators Still Skeptical


"Voices from Juvenile Detention: Kids Behind Bars" It sounds harmless: “pre-trial detention.” But the reality is far different. In a squat block building in Laredo, Texas—and in similar places around the nation—children await trial or placement in concrete cells while the underlying issues that led to their behavior fester. Some are addicts who need treatment; others are kids battling mental illnesses. Many are angry and have been virtually abandoned by absentee or irresponsible parents. Some spend a few days, others months, but despite the efforts of a small corps of dedicated professionals, few actually receive treatment for the issues that brought them to Juvenile. /// Inmates, ages 10-16, wait in line to march back to their cells in the exercise yard at the Webb County Juvenile Detention facility. This is the world of young felons, of kids gone astray, of children who cry for their mothers from behind bars. Some have skipped class too much, some have murdered in cold blood. At least half of the kids have been incarcerated before. And, if society's attempts at rehabilitation ultimately fail--or if the parent can't or simply won't do anything to turn around years of neglect and abuse--just a few more visits to juvenile detention will harden some of these kids into full-fledged adult criminals.

“Voices from Juvenile Detention: Kids Behind Bars”(see note at end of blog about this photo.)

(7-12-16) Authorities used to claim that a good way to straighten out a troubled youth was to put him in jail for a few days to scare him straight. But last night at a meeting about jail diversion, a Fairfax County, Virginia court services director said that putting a troubled juvenile in jail makes it ten times more likely that he will continue being caught up in the criminal justice system.

By contrast, Bob Bermingham Jr. said Fairfax County recently diverted 20 kids, who were considered low risk offenders, from being locked up into treatment services. Only one re-offended. Bermingham added that up to 60% of juveniles being held in detention centers have a mental illness.

Bermingham told an audience of about seventy attendees at a meeting of my local county’s Diversion First program that the juvenile court system by statute looks for ways to keep juveniles out of the criminal justice system because criminalizing them does more harm than good. Unfortunately, during the generally upbeat meeting it soon became clear that some Virginia elected officials simply don’t understand that this same principle applies when an offender is an adult with a mental illness or addiction problem.

More on that later, but first the good news.

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She’s In Jail: A Frustrated Mother Chronicles Her Daughter’s Descent. She Needed Help, Not Punishment.


(7-11-16 Every week, I receive emails from parents seeking help. Most have an adult child who has been arrested because of an alleged criminal act clearly related to a mental illness. Sharon Giaccio has been keeping a detailed account, adapted here, of her family’s ongoing struggle to help her adult daughter. Sadly, this still unfolding story is all too familiar to many of us.) 


My daughter is in jail today.

Mental illness stole her from us. It also caused her to lose herself. 

We never imagined this could happen when she left for Catholic University in Washington D.C.  I remember exactly when it began. On March 3, 2010, we were called by a Student Health psychologist at the school where she was a third year student.

The caller was blunt:  “Your daughter is catatonic and needs to be hospitalized.”

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I Tell My Story At White House Summit Held To Encourage Jail Diversion


President Obama listens to inmates during a discussion at a federal prison in El Reno, Oklahoma. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
(7-8-16) I was asked recently to speak at the White House about the problems that I encountered trying to get help for my son, Kevin, when he had a mental breakdown. I was the closing speaker for a summit held to encourage jail diversion. What follows is the White House news release.)

Launching the Data-Driven Justice Initiative: Disrupting the Cycle of Incarceration

By Lynn Overmann, Senior Advisor to the U.S. Chief Technology Officer

Today, America’s largest mental health facilities are often our local jails. With seven times more people with mental health problems in jails or prison than there are in mental health treatment facilities, local police, emergency medical teams, and jails across our Nation have become the front lines for people in mental health crisis, and, too often, the only response. While local police and sheriff’s departments are increasingly teaching their officers how to safely and effectively respond to people in crisis, law enforcement alone cannot solve the complex social, medical, and behavioral health issues of some of our Nation’s most vulnerable people.

Last summer, in a speech to the NAACP, President Obama said:

“[O]ur criminal justice system isn’t as smart as it should be. It’s not keeping us as safe as it should be. It is not as fair as it should be. Mass incarceration makes our country worse off, and we need to do something about it.”

To answer the President’s call, and building on the Administration’s work to reform the criminal justice system and increase access to mental health and substance abuse treatment, we are proud to launch the White House Data-Driven Justice Initiative (DDJ) with communities across the country. Today, a diverse, bipartisan coalition of 67 city, county, and State governments — supported by non-profit organizations, private sector companies, foundations and universities — have begun sharing solutions that are having significant impact in reducing jail populations, and are committing to expand and scale these innovations. One local innovation driving dramatic change is the way several jurisdictions are using data to identify and divert people with mental illness out of the criminal justice system and into coordinated care in their communities.

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Red Flags: Warnings Signs of Violence That You Should Know


(7-8-16) Dear Pete,  In your recent blog post, Violence and Mental Illness: An Uncomfortable Subject But A Grim Reality For Some Families,” there are frequent references to “warning signs.” Please tell us what all the warning signs are. –K. Y.

I passed this email request to  my friend and fellow advocate Doris Fuller, Chief of Research and Public Affairs at the Treatment Advocacy Center, who wrote poignantly and eloquently in the Washington Post about her own daughter’s illness and eventual suicide. Here is her thoughtful reply. 

Red Flags for Family Violence

Risk factors

Most people with serious mental illness are not violent. However, a small percentage not being treated may be violent toward family members or others. According to Surviving Schizophrenia: A Family Manual, the three most important predictors of violence are:

  • Past history or threats of violence, against family members or others;
  • Concurrent alcohol or drug abuse; and
  • Failure to take prescribed antipsychotic medications.

Additional risk factors that have been found to be significant are:

  • Being 20 to 35 years old
  • Delusions of being persecuted, watched or attacked (“paranoia”)
  • “Command hallucinations” that order the person to engage in a specific behavior (e.g., hearing a “voice” that orders the person to commit a violent act to end world hunger)

As the number of risk factors present increases, risk increases.

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