Rich Lord's March 15 article "Suit: Mentally Ill Inmates Mistreated" very sadly captured the insensitivity most have for those with mental illness. The lawsuit filed by the Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania and the American Civil Liberties Union will hopefully result in the alleviation of the abysmally wrong, cruel and unusual punishment suffered by mentally ill inmates in the state's correctional facilities.
Unfortunately, unless you are a mental health consumer or a family member of a loved one with a mental illness, you are probably oblivious to other persons with an illness who have been sentenced to prison. I am sure, too, that most do not even understand that mental illness is a brain disorder that is treatable. Treatment, however, would definitely not include spending 33 hours a day alone in a constantly lit cell. Even worse, these mentally ill inmates, according to the lawsuit, "are denied adequate mental health treatment and prohibited from working, participating in educational or rehabilitative programs or attending religious services."
Very few people are aware that very few of these 22 percent of state prisoners make early parole and must serve their maximum sentence, as they are not able to take the necessary steps to make parole. When they are released they have not been adequately prepared for outside life, so recidivism is very high.
This article states that there are an estimated 800 mentally ill inmates now in restrictive housing displaying acutely psychotic behavior including injuring themselves and prison staff and suicidal acts. In 2005, the District Rights Network began discussions with corrections officials, and soon after, a secure special needs units was created for these inmates, but there are only 140 beds throughout the state correctional system. Hopefully, this lawsuit will ensure that all mentally ill inmates will receive appropriate mental health care.
LILLIAN L. MEYERS
The writer is a retired forensic psychologist.