News Plus Readers’ Reactions to Recent Blogs About Virginia’s Tepid Response To Inmate’s Death & Lack of Peers



Prisoner Behind Bars of Cell

(6-27-16) Let’s begin with news and then readers’ reactions.

1. Virginia State Police officials announced last week that they will investigate the horrific death of Jamycheal Mitchell , the 24 year-old inmate with schizophrenia who died in the Hampton Roads Regional Jail while waiting 101 days for an open bed in a state hospital. The investigation will be the first  by outside investigators into how a prisoner who was supposed to be under continual watch and daily care by a nurse suffered a heart attack brought on by starvation.

2. During a meeting last week, the Fairfax -Falls Church Community Services Board did not reverse its decision to defund the top peer job in the county.

3. The Boston Globe’s Spotlight investigative team, made famous for its Pulitzer Prize winning expose about sexual abuse inside the Catholic Church, launched the first in a series of stories  last week called the Desperate and the Dead about our broken mental health system. The first installment was about violence in families.

Reaction by Readers to recent blogs

Blogs that I posted about the tepid response of the disAbility Law Center in Virginia to Jamycheal Mitchell’s death and the need for peers in Fairfax sparked a flurry of email responses. Here are snippets worth reading.

Lots of Lawyers at disAbility. Millions of $$ But Little To Show For Virginians.

I have long wondered what the disAbility Law Center (DLCV), formerly VOPA, actually accomplished on behalf of the Commonwealth’s citizens with mental illness and developmental disabilities. Your blog posting this morning caused me to drill down to learn about the organization and what I found was not encouraging. Most surprising is the observation that the DLCV has a huge staff and a large budget, but few genuine accomplishments on behalf of mentally disabled Virginians.

 Generally, much of the material on the DLCV website appears to be canned, or cut and pasted from other sources. I note that the federal Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness Program (PAIMI) is only one among eight federal funding sources. It may be that the DLCV’s activities on behalf of our mentally ill citizens has been diluted, or that the organization has lost it way due to “mission drift.”  In any event, it is indefensible that this organization – that claims a staff of 33, including at least eight attorneys, and an annual budget of $2.4 million, accomplishes so little; especially when compared to activities of the South Carolina Protection and Advocacy group cited in your posting today.

Why Good P and A agencies Are Needed.

So many wrongs (happen)… Like Timmy, a 25 year-old with mental illness and epilepsy, left unmonitored, neglected, locked in seclusion, who died during a seizure. I remember the staff scrambling, arguing what to write on the report. Another unsupervised young man with schizophrenia wandered outside and ate poisonous mushrooms which killed him. I’ve forgotten his name, but along with scores of others, not his face. And the women patients victimized by an oversexed doctor. I went to report him after he molested me, but gave up when I learned that the complaints would land on his desk before being sent up the chain. So shaken, I faked wellness and virtually flew out of that hospital. I carried with me the guilt that he would continue to abuse more women. And he did, I learned later. 

These incidents I mention were 40 odd years ago, yet I see the read about the same scenarios still being played out..

Impact Of No Peer Voice Being Heard in Fairfax.

The Community Readiness and Support Program is a psychosocial day support program in Fairfax for those with serious mental illnesses, serving 30 individuals. Most are actively psychotic or experiencing symptoms from schizophrenia and live in residential mental health programs. They have tried other psychosocial day support programs but have not been successful due to the size and the staffing ratio. The program was one of the first to embrace and provide peer support services, yet it is facing possible closure 90 days after July 1, 2016. Other programs within the CSB cannot provide the level of support these individuals need to establish they are ready to be in the community. The closure of this program will most certainly have a larger impact. Without this level of support, there will be certain hospitalizations for these consumers. This is so unfair to them and borderline discriminatory to withdraw it. Dave Mangano was a huge supporter of this program. Without a Consumer and Family Services position, these consumers and families do not have an advocate to go to with this concern. The very people they now need to contact are the same who want to cut this program. 

Value Of Peer Support Is Overblown, Spend $$$ On Evidence Based Programs Instead

I know you, Pete, and many people think peer support is good, but the research doesn’t show it is any better than non-peer support. Even if it did, in my opinion, the far greater impact of peer support is not on individuals “helped” by it. The biggest impact of peer support is that it creates peer networks that are used to lobby against treatment for the seriously ill including Assisted Outpatient Treatment, the need for additional hospital beds, ECT, group homes and other treatments for SMI.

About the author:

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.

Learn more about Pete.