Inmates with Mental Illness Tell Their Stories | AVID Jail Project

Inmates with Mental Illness Tell Their Stories | AVID Jail Project


TOMMY: I was hallucinating while I was in a jail cell. The worst thing they could have done to me, is keep away from medicine. It made me worse off than I was before. NEWS ANCHOR: Many of the country’s 3,300 jails have seen a rise in the number of inmates with serious mental illness. OHIO ANCHOR: Jails and prisons have become the last resort for those in need of treatment. KANSAS REPORTER: I think that jails and prisons are filling in the gap for services that people can’t get other places. REPORTER: Chicago’s Cook County Jail, the nation’s largest mental health care provider. BENJAMIN: Nobody cares about these people. They don’t have a voice. SEATTLE REPORTER: The King County Jail has become the largest facility housing people [with mental illness] in the entire state. KING COUNTY SHERIFF: Law enforcement’s being placed in a very, very difficult position when it comes to trying to deal with a what is really a health care issue. KIM: Jails don’t want to be psychiatric facilities and they shouldn’t have to be psychiatric facilities. They’re not meant to be psychiatric facilities, they’re meant to be correctional settings, and there’s all kinds of reasons why jails are not good environments, settings for people with mental illness AVID stands for Amplifying Voices of Inmates with Disabilities, and the AVID Jail Project goes into several jails here in King County [Washington] to monitor, do outreach, perform investigations and work more largely on the systemic issues that we see to try to make circumstances and treatment better for inmates with mental illness. KIM: At the AVID Jail Project we go into the jails roughly twice per week. Sometimes we go into group settings and speak with inmates in a dormitory setting. Sometimes more frequently we go cell front to cell front to speak with inmates who are in a segregated housing status. They are generally on 23 hour lockdown, very limited interaction with other human beings and limited ability to reach people. So, we will do rounds in those units pretty frequently. In doing our monitoring work in the jail, we’ve thus far identified bigger, broader, general issues, that we’re looking at more closely. The first of those is timely and effective access to psychiatric medications. RUBEN: I was brought into King County Jail May 6, 2015. My symptoms… hallucinations, nightmares, dreams, also hearing voices. When I got here, I let them know about my situation that I couldn’t, that I needed my medication, my psych [medication]. When I first met with them they told me straight out, blank, that they were not going to give me my medication for my voices, which is Seroquel. KIM: It wasn’t that they didn’t believe that he was prescribed this. They just disagreed with the dosage, and therefore refused to give it to him. RUBEN: The voices were coming back, a lot stronger. The more I fight that it’s a hallucination, that it’s not real… the more reality they become. It took them at least five days to… get me my Seroquel, my medication, that I needed for the voices. KAYLEY: Another serious concern that we have about the treatment of inmates with mental illness in jails is the overuse of segregation We’re seeing a lot of inmates with serious mental health conditions being confined in their cell, by themselves, for up to 23 hours a day. Often losing their hour out, so being confined for 24 hours a day. LYDIA: It was really hard. It was, you know, to be in your room all day. Not being able to have, you know, privileges, you know, and etc., knowing that other people in the facility are having those privileges like going to church, going outside, or going to NA [Narcotics Anonymous] meetings. I, you know, have bipolar, depression. Being locked down your cell, like, for 23 hours a day is like hard, you know. It’s just… it caused me like, to be emotional and stuff. RUBEN: I just ask people that don’t hallucinate, that don’t do that, just to think of themselves, about being in a room 23 hours a day. Like if your fantasy is a real world. Like… a production of a movie how real it looks, real… But in this case, it’s not a movie. It’s a reality of my life… that I have to deal with. KIM: One of the problems that we see pretty frequently is that there isn’t significant, or even sort of, minimal planning, release planning, for inmates who have mental illness. What does that mean? That means: Making appointments for them with outside providers. Connecting them to maybe resources and services that they already had in place. Working with their friends and family. Ensuring that they have some place to live. Ensuring that they are at least minimally covered by medical insurance. Ensuring that they have medication when they leave the jail, psychiatric medication that will bridge that gap until they can get to an outside provider. Things like that. In the course of doing regular monitoring at one of the jails, I met a young woman who was incarcerated at the jail for in the end, it ended up being two months. Um, it was difficult to engage with her given her symptoms of mental illness, but her mother contacted us and we worked pretty closely with her mother to try to help her mother contact the jail and advocate for her daughter. To just give her a sense of what the jail is like on the inside, since her mother couldn’t go where we were going to see her daughter. VIRGINIA: My name is Virginia Owens and I have a daughter living with mental illness. She was originally diagnosed with bipolar, and manic. She was locked up from March 22 to May 22. I just was concerned for her safety, number one and then, you know, her health. I know what she’s gone through. I know, you know what, just how she react, how she reacted, just prior to her coming into jail. MADISEN: I was really surprised when she first left the jail and she came out because like I’ve never seen her like that before. It was really scary like to see her, and it was sad because she was shaking, and she didn’t seem normal at all. Like, she seemed like worse. She was on her knees and she was crying. And she was just sitting in the same place just um, asking God why is this happening to her, over and over again. VIRGINIA: No one made a not one phone call to me about what they were going to do, how she was going to be released, what process needed to occur before releasing her. KIM: …and if those inmates have significant mental illness, very frequently, you seem them re-arrested shortly thereafter. We’ve continued to the monitoring work. We’ve started doing some more intense investigations at the jail, and looking into inmate records, and trying to get a better sense of these systemic issues, and with that information we are meeting with the jail officials and jail administration pretty frequently, I’d say every four or so months. Sitting down, bringing our concerns hearing their concerns, and those lines of communication are open all the time, but we try to meet with them on a more formal basis, I’d say, every four months or so. KIM: The hope is that we can bring these issues to their attention, and that they will recognize that there are some significant problems, and that we have common ground, and that that common ground is that a jail is not really an appropriate place for someone with significant mental illness, and if that person has to be in jail there need to be some protections, and care provided to those inmates, um and I think if we can come together on those basic tenets, we can go pretty far.


26 thoughts on “Inmates with Mental Illness Tell Their Stories | AVID Jail Project

  1. To anyone who watches this, it's like a shocking reversion back to the days of the 1900's, when institutions were seen as dumping ground for those with mental problems. This is not socially responsible care, it is cruel and inhumane punishment (just like the treatment of the homeless -and elderly.) Shame on you – greedy American politicians.

  2. Prisons are now the place we house people we don't want to look at: non-violent drug users, prostitutes, mentally ill, homeless, poor, etc. Meanwhile, rapists & child molesters get a slap on the wrist most of the time; even murderers are often set free at some point. Prisons should be for violent offenders who are a threat to society–not people whose lifestyles we don't agree with.

  3. AVID…ur doing a great job..but i really feel bad for the mentally ill people locked up in jail in isolation..they are not given chance to improve.

  4. Really? Where Avid is been all the years my son had been in county jails across the country segregated tortured and without a formal diagnosis due to the conflict of interest in criminal system.

  5. Seroquel is what I take for my bipolar and schizophrenia but in order to have, you have to show that you are struggling comparing to people who aren't and self-diagnosed them selves with mental health issues. I have been diagnosed with 6 mental illnesses and they ruled it out when I was 12 and I have been taking meds since 6. It's rather sad though that people have to struggle like me and go to jail or prison for something they can't control

  6. It`s a shame and disgrace for a country s rich as the US to treat mentally ill ppl. this way…As long as a mental ill person didn`t commit  a serious crime they should not be jailed, but treated in a mental health-institution…At lest so far this is here in Germany the case, but I`m not sure it will go on very much longer this way, becouse of the high costs for thy system.

  7. All the bleeding hearts that called for psych hospitals to be shut down in the 70s should be ashamed to see this.sure there were bad ones and mistreatment did occur in places but many did a great service to society and some did the best they could.

  8. We are all able to suffer mental health problems at sometime in our life …some more than others..it should be treated like any other illness., like diabetes, heart problems. Such a misunderstood disability….people are very judgemental when things happen to your brain..for whatever reason.

  9. Where was AVID when The judicial system took away my medicine Cold Turkey that almost Killed me & caused permanent damage to my Brain when I was incarcerated & I have been Sick for 11 years & Will be for the rest of my life w/ Mental & Physical Symptoms that i permanently have to live with, i suffer everyday, my family just left me there to die and they knew I needed my medicine I was abandoned

  10. I live in Alabama. I can't say I'm surprised but thank you for putting this out. We have almost no programs for inmates here. They hardly get any of their meds much less psychiatric meds. I was in holding once for a marijuana charge. They asked me about my prescriptions. I told them and she laughed. We have one prison here. The worst in Alabama. It gets coverage once a year on the local news and everyone is shocked but then everything goes back to hell. Tutwiler prison is its name. The problem with social issues in Alabama is not only that the public sector is blind but that the private sector is absent as well. We need your help. Thank you.
    Oh yeah. The women here in most prisons are raped on a regular basis by the guards.

  11. These problems exist everywhere in all the systems of the US. That is how you know it's under the control of the Feds. They want it this way for their purposes.

  12. I am an avid #MentalHealthAwareness advocate and performer, and I love this so much. I travel the country trying to bring that awareness on stages, in classrooms, hospitals, and on my YouTube channel, so I get excited when I see other advocates. 💙❤

  13. The prison industrial complex is a system situated at the intersection of government and private interests. It uses prisons as a solution to social, political, and economic problems. It includes human rights violations, the death penalty, slave labor, policing, courts, the media, political prisoners, and the elimination of dissent. – Huey Freeman

  14. forced medication is still routinely used as torture in corrections, jail, probation, especially anti-psychotic overdoses, and chemical castration drugs, in the air system. these drugs are routinely over-prescribed for domestic violence. the system has pathologizing personality disorder, and its easy to make up a diagnosis from emotional behavior. there needs to be easier ways to refuse medication and innoculate against psychiatric torture and to prove sanity in a more objective way than being assessed by a human.

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