Target: Kirsten Barlow, Executive Officer Council on Mentally Ill Offenders for California’s Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation (CDCR)
Goal: Provide specialized training and oversight to prevent further abuses of mentally ill inmates.
Three correctional deputies at Santa Clarita County Jail allegedly beat a mentally ill inmate to death. The mistreatment, abuse, and avoidable deaths of mentally ill inmates has been an ongoing issue in California’s dysfunctional prison system. Reports have surfaced of officers using pepper spray on mentally ill inmates and throwing them in solitary confinement, a severely deteriorating environment for someone with mental instabilities. Although the Santa Clarita deputies have been arrested, the crime itself shows that the current institution is dangerously flawed. California’s Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation (CDCR) must implement new protocol to ensure this injustice doesn’t happen again.
Last year, 45 percent of California’s state prison inmates were treated for severe mental illness. An official from the Los Angeles County Jail called it “the largest mental health provider in the county,” which echoes advocates’ complaints that the state criminalizes its mentally ill instead of providing them treatment. If California is going to house more mentally ill patients in jail rather than in hospitals or residential treatment centers, then they need to guarantee that their prisons are equipped to meet those needs.
It’s unacceptable for correctional deputies not to be educated on mental health diagnoses. Correctional deputies should be trained on how to handle mentally ill inmates’ special needs and there should always be a mental health professional on site.
California’s current travesty of a correctional facility allowed a vulnerable and nonviolent man to be attacked and killed by men who had taken an oath to serve and protect him. Demand that the CDCR implement thorough training and professional oversight in the special needs unit of California’s jails to ensure this horrific event doesn’t happen again.
Dear Kirsten Barlow,
California’s jails require drastic reform in how they treat their mentally ill inmates. The brutal murder of Michael James Tyree is clear proof of the lack of training and oversight in the prisons. Although the culprits were swiftly arrested, putting them in jail doesn’t resolve the larger institutionalized problem, which means this tragedy will happen again.
Last year, a Sacramento judge called the conditions for mentally ill inmates in California’s jails “horrific.” The CDCR implemented policies that were supposed to alter the way mentally ill inmates are treated. Although these policies allow mentally ill inmates some access to psychiatric care, it doesn’t involve any education or training to the guards who are in charge of the inmates’ well-being. Someone naïve to mental illnesses is not fit to oversee the mentally ill. Mentally ill patients have been sent to solitary confinement due to behaviors caused by their illness. If their guards were properly educated on mental disorders, they would know not to punish these people for actions they cannot control.
The special needs unit of prisons should have constant supervision by professionals who can ensure the inmates are being properly cared for. Studies in the prison system have shown that mentally ill inmates are much more vulnerable to beatings and verbal abuses, which is more reason to require oversight.
Please stop allowing a system that abuses society’s sick and vulnerable to continue. Ensure that the state’s prisons immediately start providing thorough education and training on mental illnesses and bring in professional supervision and oversight to the special needs units.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Jenn Ackerman