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Personal Reflection

This final blog post aims to reflect on everything that has been discussed in the previous six blog posts in relation to how my personal views have or have not been changed. This post will also reflect on particular elements that I’ve found specifically of interest in the Prison Nation class. I am choosing to discuss these topics because I feel it is paramount in understanding crucial components of the criminal justice system and prisoner health. Reflection is a critical element of learning that I feel allows for a more complete understanding of a particular topic. I am a firm believer that knowledge is power and I feel that reflection allows me to gain this knowledge.

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The topics I feel most passionate about from these blog posts and the Prison Nation class includes: women’s health, mental illness, and legal representation. I have personally never been impacted by the criminal justice system, and as I woman I find it intriguing to see how my health would be if I were to be incarcerated. The elements that involve prison health are women’s health and mental illness. Women’s health is often overlooked since the majority of incarcerated individuals are male.

I find mental illness to be of interest because of new understandings of the topic over recent years. I believe mental illness is in fact a disease and that it can completely take over a person’s life if left untreated. I am also not personally affected by mental illness, which prompts me to want to learn more about the unfamiliarity of it.

Women’s Health

Throughout the semester in the Prison Nation class, we have talked about various components of women’s health. These discussions prompted me to discuss women’s health in my fourth blog post titled “Health in European Prisons: Better or Worse than America”? As I reflect on what I learned while writing that post and actively participating in class, I’ve decided to focus on the topic of children in prison.

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In America, with the exception of roughly eight prisons, children are not allowed to live with their incarcerated mothers in prison. In the roughly eight prisons that do allow this, the child can only stay until he or she is three years old, at which point the child is no longer allowed to stay with the mother.  I personally could not imagine having a young child and not being able to see them every day because I was incarcerated. That would bear such a mental and physical burden on my health. I wonder if there are resources for those mothers who can’t see their children and are feeling mentally and physically defeated?

Mental Illness

Mental illness has been the topic of a few of my blog posts throughout this semester. The reason for this is because I believe that resources and treatments for mental illness have come very far in the past 10 years, but still has a long way to go, particularly in prisons. Mental health and illness often “flies under the radar” in jails and prisons because there are usually no physical symptoms. You can’t physically see when someone has a mental illness and because of this, it’s frequently overlooked.

A way this can be changed is through education. Giving people the proper training in how to deal with an individual who has a mental illness can be highly beneficial to everyone involved. In our Prison Nation class, we had a guest lecturer named Meredith Piffley who is a community engagement specialist at Cardinal Innovations Healthcare in Burlington, North Carolina. Her lecture focused on mental health and how training and education would be great implementations for the general public. Being familiar with how to handle a crisis could prevent a situation from escalating, resulting in the mentally ill individual not being arrested and taken to jail.

This link provides insightful information regarding mental illnesses and education: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/education

Legal Representation

As for legal representation, which has yet to be discussed on this blog, guest lecturer, Attorney Larry Brown, Jr., inspired reflection on this topic. While this does not directly involve health, it does greatly involve the criminal justice system. Mr. Brown is the Assistant District Attorney of Alamance County in North Carolina, who spoke to our Prison Nation class about various components of the criminal justice system.

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I think what resonated the most with me is the fact that he believes every single person deserves to have legal representation. This was interesting to me because I had never considered whether or not someone being charged with child molestation, for example, should deserve representation. This made me evaluate my own morals and I concluded that I too believe everyone should have representation, because everyone is human. Regardless of race, class, religion, sexual orientation, or criminal status, we are all fundamentally the same; we are humans.

Mr. Brown inspired me to be more open minded to issues in the criminal justice system and encouraged our class to view everyone in the same light. I had not previously thought of this and I feel that by reflecting on this lecture, my views on crime, justice, and the prison industrial complex have changed greatly over the course of this semester. I am now much more aware that prisoners are people too. They have families, friends, & people who care about them. Reflecting on these topics throughout this blog post has really encompassed what I’ve learned thus far in our Prison Nation class.

This is a brief video of Larry Brown, who is a great public speaker, addressing the graduating class of North Carolina Central University’s School of Law at Commencement in 2012 about making a different in the world:

If you feel that you’ve learned anything important in this blog, or any other blog on this site, please leave a comment as I would love to hear from you!

What Can Be Done?

This blog post will be offering possible alternatives, solutions, and resources that could improve prison and prisoner health in the United States. As mentioned in previous blogs on this site, the health and wellness of inmates is very important to not only the inmates themselves, but also to the communities they will be eventually reintegrated into. There are so many facets involved with health and wellness that it’s virtually impossible for me to touch on every single one. So for this post, I’ve decided to focus on some areas that I have yet to discuss.

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The first component of health that I will be addressing is social health. Social health can be defined as one’s ability to form meaningful social relationships with others. The formation of relationships for inmates can either positively or negatively impact other aspects of their health. The second component of health I will be exploring is nutritional health. This will be defined as nutrition that the inmates receive while behind bars (i.e. prison food). The last component I will be exploring is exercise while behind bars. Burning calories, sweating, and increasing physical fitness are imperative to a healthy lifestyle. Do prisoners have access to gyms or workout equipment to maintain this type of healthy lifestyle?

Social Health

As mentioned, social health is the ability to form relationships with other people. People do this every day across the country, however inmates aren’t exactly afforded the same luxury. The only interactions inmates typically have are with other inmates and prison guards. To me, that doesn’t seem like a healthy way to live. While incarcerated, inmates should be maintaining their social skills and relationship building skills. Because once these inmates are released, they are expected to be able to form social relationships and know how to act in public and around other people. What about forming and building social relationships with their own children?

There are an estimated 3 million children across the country today that have at least one parent incarcerated. Due to this, children are not able to see their incarcerated parent(s) for more than a few hours at a time. The program “One Day with God” was established in order for convicted male felons to see and spend time with their child or children for an entire day. For these children, some have never even met their fathers until this day, for others, this is the one day a year they get to spend with them. This website shows a video that illustrates what happened on this day that the children got to spend with their fathers:

http://tosavealife.com/inspiration/dads-behind-bars-hold-kids-1st-time-look-faces/

Nutritional Health

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Nutrition is very important when it comes to leading a healthy lifestyle as well. You grow up always being told to eat your vegetables and make smart choices. Well what types of choices are inmates afforded? There have been many disparities reported stating that prison food often does not meet the standards of what it should. Portion sizes are smaller, expiration dates are being ignored, and cleanliness levels of kitchens are at a standstill. This article provides some great insight into the world of prison food: http://www.medicaldaily.com/1-week-prison-food-diet-reveals-problems-inmate-meals-low-cost-bad-taste-and-349572

Prisoners are often served “nutraloaf” as punishment. Nutraloaf is essentially a big “loaf” that’s supposed to contain all of the necessary nutritional benefits of a normal meal. However, reports say that it is impossible to eat because of the taste. Prison inmates have tried suing correctional facilities for serving it to them because of how disgusting and inedible it truly is. Here is a video that gives you a better idea of how it tastes:

So, what can be done to solve this problem? I would suggest a way to have the prisoners be in charge of the quality and quantity of their own foods. Perhaps planting a prison garden, where the prisoners have to care for fruits and vegetables that can be used in the meals. Or perhaps more can be done to understand how prisoners are feeling about their food and what actions can be taken to improve it. Proper nutrition is vital for prisoners to maintain their health and wellness.

Exercise Behind Bars

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Along with a proper diet, exercise is a great way to maintain a healthy lifestyle. There are many physical and mental benefits associated with working out. However, prisoners don’t exactly get to completely experience these benefits in most prisons across the United States today. In the last 20 years or so, exercise equipment has become less and less accessible to inmates. In most prisons, free weights have been removed, along with barbells and really anything else that can be used as a weapon. However, most prisons do offer meditation and yoga videos, but I feel that there is really no comparison to truly working out hard with equipment. This link provides an interesting background on working out while incarcerated: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/explainer/2011/05/do_prisoners_really_spend_all_their_time_lifting_weights.html

Inmates should be allowed to exercise as much as they want while incarcerated. Exercising is not only good for one’s health, but I feel that it could also lower aggression levels in the inmates. When someone is sitting in the same spot all day long, they start building up energy and need to release it. I feel that having some type of quality gym or workout center would be very beneficial in dealing with that. Maybe the inmates even could train each other, to get everyone involved? Maybe they implement personal training or group training programs? The possibilities are endless.

What do you think about the topics and the proposed solutions? Leave a comment!

Identifying Existing Legislation Regarding Prisoner Health

This blog post will focus on existing legislation regulating prisoner health and wellness. The particular law that will be discussed is called Prisoner’s Rights Law. This law has various supplementary laws under it; however, the basic premise of this law is to make sure prisoners are maintaining their fundamental human rights as well as their civil liberties while behind bars in prisons and jails across the United States. This link provides a brief list of some of the laws that are in place under the Prisoner’s Rights Law: https://www.hg.org/prisoner-rights-law.html

humanrightsAlthough prisoners don’t have the same constitutional rights as the general population of the United States, they are still guaranteed these basic human and civil rights while incarcerated under the constitution. I will be discussing three components of laws under the Prisoner’s Rights Law and they deal with: sexual assault, disability, and medical and mental health care.

Sexual Assault

Inmates have the right to be free from any sexual assault while incarcerated. This can be from other inmates or prisoner personnel as well. Sexual assault is rampant across various prisons and jails in the United States. So even though this law is in place, it still doesn’t guarantee the safety of all inmates from sexual assault. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, roughly 4% of inmates reported being sexually assaulted in a 12-month period in 2011.

However, new information has been released since then, stating prison rape and sexual assault is highly underreported due to various influences such as: fear, pride, and mental status. Implementations such as video surveillance cameras, officer training programs, and encouragement to report sexual assaults are all positive ways to help both survivors and potential victims. While these implementations take time, money, and energy, they would be beneficial to many inmates. This video provides brief insight into prison rape culture and sexual assault:

Disability

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This law entitles inmates with disabilities to reasonable accommodations, under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), which ensures inmates can still access prison resources and facilities equally as their non-disabled counterparts can. According to the ADA, a disability is a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual; a record of such an impairment; or being regarded as having such an impairment.”

These laws protect disabled inmates from not receiving resources, care, or anything else they may need simply due to their disability status. Previously, before these types of laws were passed, inmates with disabilities could not partake in certain activities or have access to particular resources because they were disabled. This is obviously unconstitutional, which is why laws such as the ADA were passed.

Medical and Mental Health Care

All prisoners are entitled to receive medical care or mental health treatment as part of their basic fundamental human and civil rights. However, these treatments only need to be merely “adequate,” so if an inmate needs a higher level of care, he or she could possibly not receive it. It all depends on the prison level and resources given to that prison. This poses serious problems to prisons that are either underfunded or understaffed. This is a link to a great site with a lot of information regarding this topic: https://www.aclu.org/issues/prisoners-rights/medical-and-mental-health-care

In the past decade, far too many inmates have suffered due to a lack of medical or mental health care. This particularly applies to women, juveniles and older inmates, as they can be deemed the most vulnerable population. Before laws were passed that required adequate care for these inmates, it would have been very possible for an inmate to die from not receiving the proper health care. Tragedies like this can easily be avoided by giving inmates the proper resources to be medically and mentally stable. This law can also be categorized as a basic human right law for these inmates.

This video provides a brief insight into medical care in prison:

This link provides some of the stated laws under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act: https://www.justice.gov/crt/civil-rights-institutionalized-persons

So, What Do You Think?

 Has this blog post prompted any emotions or thoughts about inmate’s rights? Personally, I have become much more aware of how inmates are treated behind bars. In a way, I assumed they would be having basic human rights, but never did I think these rights were sometimes not met. I believe more needs to be done in order to ensure prisoner health rights and civil liberties.

There needs to be implementations in place that require prisons or jails to meet these minimum rights. I know it can be hard because the level of the prison facility directly dictates budget allowance and resources, but there needs to be a way for these inmates to still feel human. These rights are the only things some of the inmates have left. Without these rights ensured to them, the rest of the population is potentially dehumanizing these inmates.

If you have any thoughts on this particular topic, leave a comment!

Health in European Prisons: Better or Worse than America?

This blog post will be looking at the health of inmates and prisons in Europe in comparison to the health of inmates and prisons here in America. The topics that will be covered include: women’s health, overcrowding, and juveniles. The World Health Organization (WHO) of Europe released a guide to the essentials of prison health. I will be using this to compare prisoner health in Europe to America’s prison health. The link to this guide is located here: http://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/health-determinants/prisons-and-health

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Women’s Health

The number of women incarcerated is increasing steadily around the world. The most prevalent offenses that put women behind bars are nonviolent in nature. Being a woman in prison makes the chances of being sexually assaulted much higher than that of a male counterpart, regardless of that woman’s offense: violent or nonviolent.

Many European women in prison are mothers, which subsequently affects roughly 10,000 children. In most European countries, babies are allowed to stay with their mothers in prison. Age three is roughly the cutoff age for children to be allowed. Could this have any negative affect on these children?

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In America, it’s estimated that roughly 45-60% of women in federal prisons have been sexually assaulted. This can obviously lead to mental health problems later in life for a woman of any age. The risk of contracting an STD from a sexual assault in prison is much higher in America, as STD’s are more prevalent in American jails and prisons because the incarceration rate in America is so much higher.

Unlike Europe however, women are not permitted to keep their children in jail with them at any age in America, with the exception of roughly 8 prisons across the nation. The children are allowed to visit in jail, but cannot stay there with their mothers. However, in America prenatal care is given to female inmates that discover they are pregnant upon arrival. Care is also given to women that give birth in jail as well.

So, who has the better health in prisons for women, Europe or America?

Overcrowding

At any given time, roughly 2 million people are incarcerated in Europe. While overcrowding is obviously an issue across Europe, there are some countries that have serious problems with it such as: EU, France, Norway, and Denmark. Not only is overcrowding a health hazard, as it is a prime way to spread diseases and increase mental illness prevalence, but it is also financially irresponsible. There are not enough proper resources to go around, and for some countries in Europe, this makes the death tolls very high.

This video illustrates the overcrowding population that France is having:

In America, there are roughly 2.4 million people incarcerated at any given time. That’s more than all of Europe combined. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) provides some very interesting information about overcrowding in American prisons, which can found here: https://www.alec.org/article/prison-overcrowding-threatens-public-safety-state-budgets/

20101129_prisons_capacity-source-prod_affiliate-91The United States is #1 in the world in prison overcrowding, which is a serious health threat to the entire population. So many people in America cycle through the prison system in any given year and those people can pick up diseases in jail and spread them to the rest of the population very easily upon release. Because of the sheer numbers of people incarcerated, this is a real public health issue that needs to be addressed immediately.

Juveniles

In Europe, juveniles are locked up far less frequently than in America. European children and teens are much more likely to be sent to a type of therapy or rehabilitation program before they are sent to juvenile jail. However, in America these children will be taken to juvenile detention centers to serve out their sentences almost immediately unless the juvenile has an obvious mental illness, in which case the individual would be taken to a rehabilitation facility. Mental illness becomes very prevalent in both places as a result of juvenile detention. Which model do you think works better? Should children and teens be locked up for committing a crime, when their brains aren’t even fully developed yet? These are just some the questions I think of when comparing Europe and America’s juvenile models.

little-kids-1Diversion plans are implemented in Europe in an attempt to prevent children and teens from committing crimes and entering the prison system at a young age. Juveniles can absolutely be considered vulnerable individuals and should be treated in such a way. Juveniles need to be taught right from wrong and they need to be given care and compassion. These diversion plans aim to do just that. However, America’s juveniles get put on regimented schedules every day to enforce conformity and obedience.

I wonder if children were put through different types of programs, other than juvenile detention, if they would end up committing fewer crimes as adults? I also wonder if mental illness rates would be affected at all with the use of a different program implementation. European prison health and American prison health are ultimately comparable, but do have some slight differences when it comes to these three particular categories of women’s health, overcrowding, and juveniles.

If you have any thoughts about this post, I would love to read them!

The Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights

This blog post will feature the work of The Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights (CPHHR) in regards to prisoner health, medical care, resources, and much more. The link to this organization’s website is here: http://www.prisonerhealth.org/

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A brief background on the CPHHR includes their mission, vision, and some priorities on which they are currently focused. CPHHR’s mission is to “…improve the health and human rights of criminal justice populations through education, research, and advocacy.” The vision of the CPHHR includes seeking and addressing various components of public health in regards to the criminal justice populations. The main goal is to educate policy and opinion makers, health professionals, and the general public about the complexities surrounding health in the criminal justice system. Health is such a crucial component to survival and re-entry into society and inmates should get the same access to health related resources as non-inmates would get outside of prison walls.

Some current priorities include:

  • Bringing attention to the healthcare issues and challenges of prisoners and other criminal justice populations
  • Improving the continuum of care for prisoners from the time of admission to the correctional facility through release
  • Advancing policies and programs that promote both public health oriented approaches to mental illness, addiction, and substance use

Medical Care for Prisoners

Often inmates will not be given the proper medical care that they need and are entitled to while in prison. The CPHHR suggests taking a few steps if there is a family member in prison that is not getting his or her health needs properly met. The CPHHR also provides suggestions and advice for those that currently have a family member incarcerated but have run out of other options while trying to get that family member proper care.

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The first step would be to contact your incarcerated family member’s outside doctor and ask if the doctor can communicate directly to your incarcerated family member. Another step would be contacting healthcare providers directly by bringing the medical problem to their attention. A last option would be contacting The Department of Corrections of the appropriate state and asking to speak to the medical director about the situation.

Communicable Diseases in Prison

Communicable diseases are diseases that can be passed from person to person such as the flu, mono, or HIV. The CPHHR provides some key statistics about these types of diseases in incarcerated populations, such as:

  1. Hepatitis C is 9-10 times more prevalent in correctional facilities than communities
  2. The prevalence of diagnosed HIV in correctional facilities has declined, but remains 4-5 times higher among inmates than the general population
  3. Over half of prisoners with HIV are estimated to also have Hepatitis C

These statistics are alarming and comparable to that of a country without proper medical infrastructures and resources. Especially with the amount of medical advances we have in the United States, these statistics must urgently be addressed. The CPHHR aims to bring awareness and promote change in order to address the gaps in health care regarding prisons and jails in the United States.

Addiction and Substance Abuse

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Addiction and substance abuse pose very serious health implications, particularly for inmates that don’t have the same access to healthcare as non-incarcerated individuals. The sharing of needles and other unsterilized equipment used for drugs is an almost positive way to contract Hepatitis C. The War on Drugs has also played a large part in the number of individuals arrested, convicted, and now incarcerated for drug related crimes.

About half of prison inmates meet the criteria for substance abuse or dependence. Most people who are released from prison or jail actually relapse upon leaving. Treatment for substance abuse and addiction in prison is not widely offered. It’s estimated that only about 11% of incarcerated people that are in need of treatment actually receive it.

Some other references that may be of interest include:

–> “Behind Bars II: Substance Abuse and America’s Prison Population”

–> “Return to Drug Use and Overdose after Release from Prison: A Qualitative Study of Risk and Protective Factors”

Return to Society

The inmates that are released from jail will eventually find themselves re-integrated into communities across the country. By knowing the facts about health in prison, it is imperative that the care and resources be improved for these individuals. Because once these inmates are released, they are free to mingle with society, conceivably passing along any types of diseases they may have contracted while behind bars.n7ypxr-b88114302z-120140629203232000g8p35ntv-10

The CPHHR wants to educate the general public about the health crisis that is prisoner health. This organization is perfect to integrate into my blog and also has some very important and interesting educational resources as well.

 

 

There are also videos on their website that help address some of the issues discussed throughout this blog.

They can be found at this link: http://www.prisonerhealth.org/videos-and-fact-sheets/

I hope you found this blog to be insightful, if so leave a comment!

Mental Illness: Real or Fake?

For this blog post I will be responding to an opposing view of my own related to mental health and illness. The opposing view I will be responding to can be found at this link: https://www.madinamerica.com/2012/03/i-dont-believe-in-mental-illness-do-you/

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This is Dr. Michael Cornwall and he does not believe in mental illness. Instead, he believes that when someone is dealing with human emotions that seem to be too powerful for that individual, that person is in a state of “madness”. Personally, I believe in mental illness, however I am always curious to hear other people’s opinions and points of view that are different than my own because I often find that I learn something new.

In this case, I actually did learn something new. I learned that many people base their opinions on their own experiences. I have never had any mental health issues, but I know many people who have, and therefore because of those experiences with those people, I do believe in mental illness. However, Dr. Cornwall mentions that he did experience his own “madness” at a point in his life, but still didn’t believe it was classified as mental illness.

This makes me wonder what the severity of his “madness” was. Maybe he didn’t fully experience a true mental health illness at the time? Maybe he was unaware that his condition needed some type of treatment and decided to tackle it on his own? I’m not sure what happened, but I do find it interesting that even after going through “madness” himself, he still didn’t believe in mental illness.

Mental Illness in Prison
Just as Dr. Cornwall does not believe in mental illness, there are many others out there that also believe mental illness is not real. These individuals or organizations could also believe mental illness is simply an excuse for bad behavior. Is this true? Are criminals hiding behind mental illness to avoid prosecution? Or is mental illness real and therefore being overlooked, particularly in prisons? This video illustrates some issues with mental illness behind bars:

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This image shows a breakdown of the most common mental health issues among prisoners. As depicted, forms of depression, bi-polar disorder, and anxiety seem to be the most prevalent disorders for inmates. Medications are required for most, if not all of the conditions on this chart. Is medicating mental illness the answer?

Medicating and Treating the Mentally Ill

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According to Dr. Cornwall, any medications or treatment of the “mad” should not be used if it causes any harm to the individual. I actually agree with that sentence, however what about electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)? This is a procedure that sends small electric currents through the brain with the ultimate goal of triggering a brief brain seizure in order to remake the brain chemistry.

Is ECT an effective treatment for the mentally ill? If so, should it be used in prisons for mentally ill inmates that do not get sent to treatment facilities? Dr. Cornwall also mentions how mental illness medications should not be forced, but what if the patient can only function properly with them, however refuses to take them? I feel that human rights overlap greatly with the topic of mental illness and medicating or treating the mentally ill. What do you think?

So, Do You Believe in Mental Illness?

Do you think mental illness is real? Why or why not? I personally think mental illness is real, but I do think that particular emotions can sometimes be mistaken for illness. The views of Dr. Cornwall did not change my opinion, however they did allow me to open my mind to other views and opinions in order to influence my own judgment. I do feel that I learned from Dr. Cornwall’s opinions and stances and I do feel that others can do the same. I may not agree with him, but I respect him for stating his opinion, as it can be seen as a controversial one.

Mental health and mental illness are such large components of society’s health today and I feel that the topic is crucial to the overall well-being of individuals, particularly inmates behind bars. Without treatment or medication, many mentally ill inmates experience life much differently, usually in a negative way. This video illustrates how this dynamic works behind prison walls:

What types of changes need to be made in the criminal justice system for mental illness to be more recognized than it is currently? I believe in rehabilitation and want to see those inmates or criminals with mental health issues be given the help they need. It will allow them to live happier and healthier lives, all while trying to become contributing members of society again one day. Has this blog post changed your views at all on the topic of mental illness? If so, I’d love to hear how. Leave a comment on this post, or send me a message through the “contact” section.

Mental Health Inside Prison Walls

For my first blog post, I will be responding to a recent news story written by JB Nicholas from “The Crime Report” website. The link to this news story is here: http://thecrimereport.org/2016/09/30/how-prison-guards-drove-a-mentally-ill-inmate-to-suicide/

This heartbreaking story shares the tragic suicide of a mentally ill prison inmate who was arguably pushed to commit suicide due to a lack of mental health help and support while in prison. This is the story of Benjamin Van Zandt, who displayed signs of mental instability from a very young age. By the age of 17, Van Zandt was already diagnosed with schizophrenia and psychotic depression.

Age 17 is also the age he was sentenced to 12 years in adult prison for lighting a house on fire in his neighborhood because the voices in his head told him to do so. In jail he was raped, sent to solitary confinement, and deprived of his necessary anti-psychotic medications. At the age of 21, Van Zandt hanged himself in his cell at Fishkill Correctional Facility in New York, which was the 11th suicide in state prisons in 2014 and the youngest inmate to take his own life.

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Benjamin Van Zandt. Photo by Bethlehem Police Dept.

There are so many things that went wrong in the criminal justice system in Van Zandt’s case that unfortunately were too much for Van Zandt, and rightly so. I will be discussing the two main components of mental health in prisons and they are: criminalization of mental illness and solitary confinement. These two topics are very important when it comes to mental health and I feel that they are the most demonstrative issues in this particular case.

Criminalization of Mental Illness

Mental illness is often not separated from criminality in the criminal justice system. Inmates are often sentenced to prison when in fact what they need is rehabilitation and support. Fishkill Correctional Facility is a Level-1 facility, which is the highest level of mental health care available. However, according to the article, when the prison was visited and assessed by auditors, it was noted that Fishkill was not living up to its Level-1 accolade.

It was found that 464 prisoners were in need of psychiatric care, but there were only 42 available beds to treat them. That is a huge concern, particularly being the “best mental health care facility” in the state. Here is a link to learn more about the lack of mental health care in prison facilities and criminalization of mental health: http://mentalillnesspolicy.org/consequences/criminalization.html

Changes must be made on fundamental and societal levels for the stigma surrounding mental health, particularly relating to criminals in prisons. Inmates are often not given the same basic human rights that non-inmates receive. If a non-inmate has mental health issues and needs help, they more than likely receive it. However, if an inmate needs something, it’s much harder and much more of a process for them to receive it because of their criminal status.

Solitary Confinement

Solitary confinement goes hand in hand with mental illness because it has been proven to not be effective in changing inmate behavior. This link provides more information on how mentality is negatively affected by solitary confinement: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/what-does-solitary-confinement-do-to-your-mind/

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Because Van Zandt was repeatedly sent to solitary, I wouldn’t be surprised if his mind began to wander while he was in there. Many crazy thoughts can come into one’s mind when they are sitting in a small isolated cell for 23 hours out of the day. It truly is very sad that the criminal justice system thinks treating a human being like this will incite conforming “good behavior.” It’s so unfortunate that Van Zandt was treated this way when he should have been treated, not locked up, particularly being so young.

What’s Next?

This is still an ongoing problem today in prisons across the country. Imagine a world where mental health was not stigmatized and people from all walks of life could seek and receive help. This would no doubt be a more positive world, promoting support and rehabilitation for those who need it. Criminals could actually get help instead of being punished for committing crimes that may have been associated with their mental states.

The criminalization of mental illness and solitary confinement can both be seen as huge contributors to the suicide of Benjamin Van Zandt. If he was given the proper medications and care and perhaps sent to a rehabilitation facility instead of prison, he could likely still be around today. This is becoming such an unfortunate trend in prisons across America in society today and something needs to be done about it. Institutional changes must be implemented for these prisoners to get the help they so deserve. The ultimate goal for humanity should be to help inmates that can be helped with the main goal being re-integration into society one day.