Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

How the US treats mental illness

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It occurs to me that, just as we try to solve problems abroad by waging war—if you kill enough people, the problem goes away, seems to be the thinking—we often try to solve problems at home by making it illegal to have the problem. So it’s (basically) illegal to be mentally ill, or to be homeless, or to be addicted to drugs. The focus is always on the poor and marginalized because the comfortable and secure can seek out treatment, but we do not provide assistance to the poor (or, when we do, conservatives do everything in their power to shut down the assistance: you can usually predict the GOP actions if you assume that they hate the poor—although that’s perhaps untrue, the actions they take are the same as would be taken by a group that hates the poor.

Radley Balko has an example of how the US treats the mentally ill:

The News & Observer has the wrenching details of a man killed by the North Carolina prison system.

Michael Anthony Kerr spent the last five days of his life handcuffed in a prison cell, unresponsive, off his mental health medicine, and lying in his feces and urine. An hour or two before the former Army sergeant died, officials at Alexander Correctional Institution put him into a wheelchair and drove him 2-1/2 hours east to a prison hospital in Raleigh.

When Kerr, 53, arrived at Central Prison, his body was cold.

Somewhere between Taylorsville and Raleigh, as the prison vehicle passed emergency rooms at eight hospitals, Kerr died of dehydration.

“They treated him like a dog,” said Brenda Liles, his sister.

Most dogs are treated far better. The state failed Kerr time and time again. His death came after more than a month in solitary confinement. We tend think that people who end up with long prison terms and who then spend long stretches in solitary, are violent sociopaths who are beyond redemption. It would be easy to think that about Kerr, who was serving a 31-year sentence after a series of larceny convictions, capped by an incident in which he fired several rounds into a home.

But read a bit more and the story gets more complicated. This was a man who had been broken by grief.

Kerr was born in Sampson County, in southeastern North Carolina, in 1960 to a family of six boys and six girls. He joined the Army in 1979, serving in an artillery unit. After an honorable discharge in 1991 from Fort Sill, he sold real estate in Lawton, Okla., and was pastor of the Faith Temple church.

While an intensely religious man, he began getting in trouble with the law in 1995, with a string of larceny convictions, and served 10 months in prison.

Liles, his sister, said Kerr began falling apart after two of his sons were murdered in Sampson County: Anthony Kerr in Harrells in May 2007, and Gabriel Kerr in a Garland juke joint in June 2008.

“That’s when he began to have those nervous breakdowns,” Liles said. “He had two or three.” . . .

In prison, Kerr was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a condition in which the person experiences schizophrenia symptoms, such as delusions or hallucinations, as well as mood disorders such as mania or depression.

Prison officials put Kerr into solitary confinement in February. For several weeks, guards observed him standing, sitting or sleeping, according to a prison log.

Sometimes he lay on the floor singing; at other times he kicked, banged or pecked on his cell door. On four occasions, he plugged up his sink to flood the cell, and guards periodically cut the water off. He was held in full restraints or handcuffs for days at a time.

So after diagnosing Kerr with a mental illness, the state of North Carolina refused to treat him . . . and it put him in solitary confinement. When he reacted the way you might expect someone with an untreated disorder held in isolation to act, they put him in restraints, then cut off his access to water. He ultimately died of dehydration.
State prison officials conducted their own investigation and did discipline a number of employees. But they’ve been typically obstinate about letting anyone from outside the corrections community conduct a review.

The state Department of Public Safety has released almost no information to the public on Kerr’s March 12 death. Secretary of Public Safety Frank Perry declined to discuss the facts of the case but said he called in the State Bureau of Investigation to look into the death. . . .

Other state agencies have faced obstacles investigating the case. An agent for the State Bureau of Investigation had to get a court order to obtain Kerr’s records.

As the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner conducted an autopsy, prison officials’ help was so minimal that the pathologist could not determine the manner of death: accident, suicide or homicide.

Days after the autopsy was released and the lack of cooperation became public, the U.S. attorney in Raleigh opened a grand jury investigation of the death.

Kerr’s is only the latest horrifying story we’ve heard in recent months. You may recall . . .

Continue reading.

Yesterday I blogged about how self-policing does not work and cannot work—but is marvelously useful for covering up failures and misdeeds, so organizations like it. They want to deep-six any bad news, and that’s hard to do if an independent agency is investigating. So organizations of all sorts try as hard as they can to keep all investigations internal and allow only self-policing. That way, those who are incompetent and/or criminal can be protected from public exposure, thus avoiding “scandal.” (Cf. Catholic church’s self-policing regarding child rapists.)

BTW, I am gradually coming to the conclusion that things will not change and that the US is on a relentless march downhill. Part of that is, of course, that people do not bother to learn what’s going on and do not bother to vote, but Glennon’s book National Security and  Double Government demonstrates that voting will have little effect unless our citizens become engaged, and our citizens really do not want to be engaged: those with most to lose have no power, and those with power seem concerned only with advancing themselves. The feeling of community is gone.

Sorry to sound depressing, but as I look at the pattern of events, that’s what I see. Just read the rest of the column blogged above: what happened in North Carolina is not an anomaly. It’s what is happening throughout the nation. I think in many ways I personally am fortunate to be as old as I am. I cannot imagine facing the future were I in my 20’s. It’s just too dark.

Written by Leisureguy

11 November 2014 at 3:09 pm

Posted in Government, Law

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