A North Carolina prisoner with a history of mental illness who was found dead in a transport van after being transferred to another prison died due to dehydration, according to the North Carolina Medical Examiner’s Office.

However, the state pathologist who conducted the autopsy on Michael Anthony Kerr, 54, said records provided by the Department of Public Safety were so scanty and incomplete that she was unable to determine whether his death was accidental, a suicide or a homicide.

Prison records indicate that Kerr was held in solitary confinement for 35 days prior to his death and had spent the last five days of his life handcuffed and largely unresponsive. Prison officials repeatedly turned off the water to his cell because he had flooded it, and put him on a diet of milk and nutraloaf. The milk was later ordered withheld.

“They treated him like a dog,” said Kerr’s sister, Brenda Liles.

Read More

By Dianne Frazee-Walker Kevin McCauley is a medical doctor and recovering alcoholic/drug addict. He has spent the last ten-years studying addiction and the theories behind the causes of addiction. He imaginatively uses the backdrop of some of Utah’s most beautiful state park scenery to illustrate his analogy of how the brain of an addicted person…

Read More

By Dianne Frazee-Walker

Recently, a video was released that reveals relentless brutality in the Denver City jail by correctional officers. The inmate, Mr. Moreno, is mentally-ill, suicidal, and the victim of extreme violence that is unnecessary.

Correctional officers attempt to control Moreno by forcing him to strip down to nothing and placing him in a suicidal garment appropriately named a “turtle suit” that is too small for Moreno. The sardonic purpose of the suit is to protect Moreno from self-harm. Moreno has been evicted of any self-pride or dignity he might have left. He is powerless.     

The 45-minute footage — obtained September of 2013 by The Colorado Independent through an open records request — depicts Moreno sitting on a cold cement bench that doubles as a bed inside an isolation cell not much bigger than a dog kennel. Moreno’s 45-minutes of hell on tape begin with him bewilderedly looking around the cell. Immobilized and stifled from the combination of constricted attire and cramped quarters, Moreno fidgets with his “turtle suit” and mimics a caged animal by pacing back in forth and shifting his body from side to side. His only means for expressing his pent up anger and frustration is to bang his head against the cement cinder-block wall.  

Eight officers assemble outside the cell with a restraint-chair that is supposedly designed to stop Moreno from harming himself. Not knowing what else to do, Moreno resumes hitting his head on the cell wall. After several minutes a correctional officer asks Moreno to stop pounding his head against the wall Moreno’s only possible response to the emotional horror he is going through.  Moreno lets the officer know he doesn’t care about anything and resorts to yelling obscenities.

Read More

By Stephanie Mencimer / motherjones.com

Passed in 1994, California’s “three strikes” law is the nation’s harshest sentencing law. Designed to imprison for life anyone who commits three violent crimes, the law has inadvertently resulted in the incarceration of a lot relatively harmless people, for a long time and at great public expense. Crimes that have earned people life sentences: Stealing a dollar in loose change from a car, breaking into a soup kitchen to steal food, stealing a jack from the open window of a tow truck, and even stealing two pairs of children’s shoes from Ross Dress for Less. The law is one reason that California’s prison system is dangerously, and unconstitutionally, overcrowded. More than 4,000 people in the prison system are serving life sentences for non-violent crimes.

In 2012, with corrections costs consuming ever more of the state budget, the voters in the state had had enough, and they approved a reform measure that would spring many of these low-level offenders from a lifetime of costly confinement. By August of last year, more than 1,000 inmates had their life sentences changed and were released; recidivisim rates for this group has also been extremely low. But further progress in the reform effort is being stymied by one thorny problem: Nearly half of the inmates serving time in California prisons suffer from a serious mental illness such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. So far, judges have been reluctant to let these folks out of their life sentences.

Read More

By Christopher Zoukis

The American criminal justice system is broken.  Wrongdoers go to prison, become hardened by the experience, only to be released and commit additional crimes, thus reentering the criminal justice system.  This cycle of crime, punishment, crime, and then back to punishment is often continual, and it is intergenerational, too.  According to the latest RAND Corporation/Correctional Education Association study, 43 percent of released prisoners will recidivate within 3 years of their release from prison.  While this is in line with several Pew Center on the States’ studies, the Bureau of Justice Statistics actually states that the 3 year recidivism rate is in the 50th percentile.  Something clearly needs to be done.

Prisons: The Warehousing of People

While there are many causes for such a high recidivism — or failure — rate, in my mind they all come down to one component: wrongdoers are going to prison and are not being transformed by the experience.  This is quite a sad statement considering that the American taxpayers spend tens of thousands of dollars per year to incarcerate each offender.  We are essentially paying for the state to house people in concrete and cinderblock rooms, wait the prescribed time, and then release them as the same people they were when they went in in the first place.  To call this ineffectual and simpleminded would be a gross understatement.

A Transformational Experience

What is needed is to manufacture a transformational experience for those Americans we incarcerate.  We need to come up with some way to change people, not merely warehouse them.  The research indicates that prison education, substance abuse and mental health treatment, as well as a structured reintegration plan, will make all the difference in the world.  Let’s take each in turn.

Read More

By Matt Clarke

Studies have shown that the prevalence of traumatic brain injury (TBI) among adult prisoners is more than seven times higher than among non-incarcerated adults.

Traumatic brain injury occurs when a person suffers a disruption of brain function due to an injury – such as an impact from an accident, playing sports or an assault. The most common form of TBI is a concussion.

Medical researchers have discovered that minor TBIs, previously believed to be inconsequential and transient, can result in lasting disabilities. They also discovered that the injuries caused by TBIs are cumulative, in that a series of minor TBIs can lead to major impairment.

Most people who suffer the most minor form of TBI, a concussion, will recover more or less fully within a year. For the 15% who do not, persistent symptoms may include headaches or increased irritability that interferes with everyday functioning.

Sometimes TBI results in behavioral issues that are a direct consequence of the impact that caused the injury. For example, in a vehicle accident or assault, the impact is often to the top front of the head just above the frontal lobes, which regulate behavior. Frontal lobe TBI also can be caused by the brain impacting the skull inside the head, such as during a sudden acceleration or deceleration. This type of injury can result even when the head is not hit directly.

Around 8.5% of the non-incarcerated adult population in the United States has suffered a traumatic brain injury; 2% currently suffer from some form of disability due to past TBI.

Read More

By Dianne Frazee-Walker

Following the aftermath of the third media worthy shooting in Colorado, the time has arrived for shedding light onto positive news in Colorado.

According to the news media, the federal government is taking a more serious look at how mental illness is connected to violent crimes. Gun control news has accelerated. However, it is evident that stricter gun control laws are not the only answer to this festering problem.  

Colorado recently added their eighth mental illness pilot project to their judicial system. Currently, there are approximately 300 similar projects across the nation.

Leave it to Aspen, Colorado, the innovative ski resort town burrowed in the Rocky Mountains to launch a program designed for mentally ill offenders.

It is no surprise the glitzy town of Aspen would offer such a lavish solution to a problem narrowly addressed within the criminal justice system. Aspen locals have historically nick named the Aspen jail the “Club Med” of the correctional system.

The Wellness Program, generated earlier this year has evolved over the past several months.

The motive of the program is to provide appropriate sentencing alternatives for mentally ill offenders, sentencing alternatives which reduce recidivism rates.  

For people with mental illness, jail rarely is the proper place to get needed treatment, but that is often exactly the place where they repeatedly end up.

Read More