Justice Dept. Slams Virginia Jail. “Deliberate Indifference” Led To Numerous Deaths But No One Punished

Starved To Death In Jail

(12-20-18) The U.S. Department of Justice has said there is reasonable evidence to conclude that officials at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail in Virginia are violating the constitutional rights of prisoners with mental illnesses. The report refers to  “deliberate indifference to prisoners’ constitutional rights to adequate medical care” and a “deliberate indifference to prisoner health and safety.”

In a 43-page investigative report released late last night, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia disclosed information about deaths at the jail not previously widely known.

Perhaps the saddest findings are frequent references to the “indifference” jail officials and medical workers showed toward mentally ill prisoners. It noted the jail “does not take prisoner grievances about lack of access to medical care seriously, resulting in significant harm to prisoners, even death.”

The federal government launched its investigation of the Portsmouth regional jail at the request of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Mental Health America, the NAACP, the ACLU, and the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law after widespread publicity swirling around the death of Jamycheal Mitchell and Virginia state officials’ bungling of state investigations.

Mitchell, a 24 year-old African American with a diagnosed mental illness, was found dead in his cell four months after he was arrested for allegedly stealing $5.05 in candy and a soda from a convenience store. Mitchell died from a heart attack that a Virginia medical examiner said was caused by “wasting away” syndrome (starvation.) He had lost 40 pounds during the 100 days he was jailed in solitary confinement awaiting transfer to a state mental hospital. In a civil suit filed by his family, attorneys claimed correctional officers denied Mitchell food as punishment, kicked, beat, and pepper sprayed him.

The Justice Department noted that jail officials failed to improve medical services even after Mitchell’s highly publicized death. A second inmate died a year later after his repeated pleas for medical help were ignored.

Although the Justice Department concluded there is reasonable evidence to suggest the jail was and continues to violate prisoners’ 8th and 14th Constitutional rights and the Americans with Disability Act, no official was cited for discipline and no criminal charges apparently will be filed against any individuals.

The Hampton Road Jail holds more prisoners with mental illnesses in Virginia than most jails. The report cited 25% as compared to 9.55 percent in other jails. It also had the second highest number of military veterans, of which, 47% had a mental illness.

The report disclosed other deaths inside the jail that had not been publicized, including these examples:

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Parents Spent 15 Years Trying Community Treatment, But It Took Long-Term Residential Care To Help Their Son

Parents describe need for residential housing in Arizona for severely ill sons and daughters

(12-17-18) Can everyone who is seriously mentally ill be helped through community-based services or are some individuals so impaired that they need longer term residential care, possibly for life?

It’s a question being asked more frequently as our jails and prisons continue to fill up with more and more seriously mentally ill Americans whose real crime is that they became ill.

Because of our asylum past, it’s also a question that sparks strong debate.

In Phoenix, several parents of severely ill children have formed a non-profit called the Association for the Chronically Mentally Ill (ACMI). The group argues that community-based services often are inadequate to help their family members who have been diagnosed with serious mental illnesses, as well as, other issues such as addictions, ADHD, and additional significant mental disorders.

Laurie and Dr. Chuck Goldstein helped found the Arizona non-profit after spending fifteen years and hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to help their son, Daniel.  You can read more about ACMI at the end of this blog, but first I’ve asked Laurie to explain why she and her husband are advocating for long term residential treatment beds. She answered by telling me about her son.

Our Son Daniel  by Laurie Goldstein

Our son was born in 1987 to a 15-year-old birth mother who did not seek prenatal care and denied she was pregnant even while she was in labor.

He began exhibiting atypical behavior as a child and was soon diagnosed as having atypical ADHD symptoms. We knew Daniel was bright as soon as he joined our family, but he could not follow directions, and, as he grew older, he began showing significant socialization issues.

At age four, he set fire to furniture in the house.

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Federal Bureau of Prisons Is Failing To Provide Decent Mental Health Care. It Needs To Participate In Reform Efforts. NOW!

(12-10-18) The federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is not participating in the Interdepartmental Serious Mental Illness Coordinating Committee (ISMICC) – a panel created by Congress to implement better mental health care in our country.

This is a mistake.

A Justice Departmental study found that as high as 45 percent of all federal prisoners have a diagnosable mental illness. The Washington Post recently published a study by The Marshall Project that faulted the  BOP’s treatment of inmates with mental illnesses. This troubling study is simply the most recent in a long string of exposes that have documented abuses and failures in the federal system.

How can the federal government work to improve mental health services nationally if it can’t clean up its own house?

In the late 1980s, I spent two years off-and-on inside the U.S. Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas watching everyday events unfold. I was doing research for my best selling book, The Hot House: Life Inside Leavenworth Prison.  What I discovered then is still true today. The BOP operates largely as an island within the U.S. Department of Justice free from interference by its leaders.

It’s time for the U.S. Attorney General to direct the BOP to begin participating in the five year, congressionally mandated ISMICC process.


Inside federal prisons’ dangerous failure to treat inmates with mental-health disorders

Story by Christie Thompson and Taylor Elizabeth Eldridge | The Marshall Project, first published in The Washington Post

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Your State Can Get More Federal Medicaid $$$ for Mental Health: Is It?


(12-5-18) (Thanks to NAMI Cambridge/Middlesex for having me speak last night. It was a wonderful evening and rewarding for me to meet with such dedicated advocates.)

Want to improve mental health services in your community? Get more dollars for treatment. Here’s how you can.

With significant prompting from the 14 non-federal members of the Interdepartmental Serious Mental Illness Coordinating Committee (ISMICC), the Trump Administration recently announced that states can apply for Medicaid waivers. The waivers will permit states to begin receiving federal Medicaid payments for mental health treatment delivered in inpatient settings known as IMDs, or institutions of mental disease.

This is a significant policy shift and D.J. Jaffe, Executive Director of  Mental Illness Policy Org., is urging readers to ask Medicaid Directors in each of their states to apply for the IMD waivers.

National Alliance on Mental Illness CEO Mary Giliberti led the non-federal ISMICC members efforts to obtain Medicaid funding. (Full disclosure: I serve as the parent member on the ISMICC panel and signed the letter requesting the policy change.)

Here’s the information that Advocate Jaffe has posted, including a sample letter to use.

How to Make New Housing & Hospitals Available for Mentally Ill

Blog originally written by D.J. Jaffe, author of Insane Consequences: How The Mental Health Industry Fails The Mentally Ill

Great news:

The federal government just made it easier for your state to expand housing and hospitalization options for the seriously mentally ill.  But we have to act fast. The new policy allows states to use Medicaid money to pay for some hospitalization and housing that was previously prohibited.

However, in order to use Medicaid to expand housing and hospitals in your state, the state Medicaid Director has to apply for a waiver.

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Dogs Left Outside In Cold Makes News In Omaha, But Not Homeless Elderly Woman

(12-4-18) Speaking tonight.

I’m thrilled to be speaking tonight at the annual meeting of NAMI Cambridge/Middlesex Chapter! The meeting is being held at the Cambridge Public Library, 449 Broadway, Cambridge, MA, between 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.. Please attend if you can.

Good Samaritan In Omaha Defends Her Decision To Help Homeless Elderly Woman

Good morning, Pete – I read the blog post from the writer commenting on our situation. I would like to point out a few differences in the two situations. 

Our situation is certainly not a case of DIY charity. We have not invited this woman into our home or given her money because we believe that is a deterrent from getting her the help she truly needs.  Also, to the writer’s point, one must be careful. Sadly, there are others that need help that we do not feel safe to allow in our vehicles. It doesn’t mean that they aren’t entitled to help, though.

 We thought that by putting this woman in the hands of the agency that she would get the helps she needs. The agency whose website states that they focus on services for mental illness and homelessness. The agency that receives federal funds to provide these services. 

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Reader Says Good Samaritan In Omaha Is Putting Herself in Danger Trying To Help Homeless Woman

(12-3-18) On my blog last Monday, a Good Samaritan described the barriers that she and her husband have encountered when attempting to find shelter for a homeless elderly woman in Omaha. Most of the comments on Facebook and those sent to me lauded her determined efforts. But the writer of this note felt otherwise.

Dear Mr. Earley,

I find it shocking that this couple in Omaha are getting involved so heavily with Geraldine. (The elderly homeless woman described in last week’s blog.)  They are putting themselves in grave danger without understanding the risks involved.

I made the mistake of befriending a polite young man of 18 who came from a broken home – abandoned by his mother at 6, raised by grandmother, but lived in a trashed out house with an alcoholic father who did not parent him.

I thought his issues were primarily caused by poverty.  My wife and I treated him like he was a grandson, since we have no grandchildren.  I helped him write a resume and get a real job.  He ate at our table, and I took him on several vacation trips.

Bad idea.

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