Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Prison Biz News: Compassionate Release v. Prison Hospitals

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Sick, elderly, and dying prisoners will be transferred to new prison hospitals at staggering costs,
not home for family care. Nothing personal, just business.

Photograph by Photojournalist and Columnist, Rev. Dr. B. Cayenne Bird, Director of
Unified for No Injustice Oppression or Neglect (U.N.I.O.N.) at http://www.1union1.com/

COMPASSIONATE  RELEASE is an overlooked opportunity to reduce prison costs.  Prison populations include many inmates who are elderly and chronically ill.  The number of geriatric prisoners between ages 65 to 100 is large and growing due to tough sentencing laws.  Plenty of inmates who are elderly or chronically ill have loving families who would gladly care for them such as those pictured at the protest above.  Elderly, physically sick and dying inmates pose absolutely no threat to society, but pleas for compassionate release are seldom granted.  Inmates housed in prison hospitals, on death row, or in solitary confinement cells (such as acute mental patients often are) cost taxpayers significantly more per year per inmate than prisoners in the general prison population. 

Families have little hope of being granted compassionate release based on what happened in the story at the link below. In September 2008, compassionate release was denied for Jackson Phaysaleum, who was brain dead in Stockton, a California correctional facility. San Joaquin County Deputy District Attorney Thomas Testa opposed the release, although it was definitely not "cheaper to keep him."

Brain Dead Inmate Denied Early Release


Reasonable, cost-saving solutions to prison overcrowding that would reduce the prison budget without a negative impact on public safety include compassionate release for the aged and infirmed, plus inpatient and outpatient psychiatric care for mentally ill offenders (depending on their offenses and ability to survive outside of a controlled environment). The alternative is that the nation's prisons will soon become nursing homes and hospitals with armed guards instead of orderlies - at a significantly higher price tag to taxpayers. 

An example of where criminalizing mental illness and the "tough on crime" mandatory sentencing and three-strikes laws have led is below. Mostly indigent psychiatric patients who were denied timely mental health care and aging and dying California prisoners will soon have a new abode.  Two state prison medical centers are being planned for the area southeast of Stockton in California.

Below is an excerpt from "Give us your convicted, your sick, your jailed masses in need of health care," by Donald W. Blount. 

The first center is a 1.2 million-square-foot sub-acute medical and mental health care facility at the site of the Karl Holton Youth Correctional Facility that would open in 2011 if it continues as planned. The $1.1 billion facility would have space for 1,734 convicts, including some from maximum-security prisons and mentally ill sex offenders.

The second center, just revealed locally Friday, would house an additional 1,133 prisoners at the site of a the former DeWitt Nelson Youth Correctional Facility at a cost of $150 million.

That's a total of 2,867 prisoners who would call San Joaquin County home away from home.

J. Clark Kelso, the federal court appointed prison health care receiver tasked with improving the state prisons' health care system, selected those sites as part of a scaled-down version of an $8 billion plan to build seven hospitals throughout the state for 10,000 inmates. Of course, the state's budget woes put the kibosh on that.

[There will be approximately] 1,200 jobs and $85 million in annual salaries to doctors, nurses and correctional officers.

Overall, a report by Kelso says Stockton stands directly to gain 2,800 new jobs paying a combined $676 million annually in above-average salaries. It could support an additional 6,900 jobs, creating $1.1 billion worth of economic activity.

The entire article is accessible at the link:

Many in the new prison hospitals will include hospice patients and the mentally ill.  There is such a thing as "compassionate release."  It would appear that only wealthy people qualify for compassionate release under the standard outlined below. 

Compassionate Release Law

By Pauline Go

According to the compassionate release law, a prisoner can be granted early release from the prison on special grounds such as due to child-birth or due to a terminal illness, etc. Even old and disabled prisoners or those prisoners suffering from debilitating diseases like AIDS can be released early from the prison on compassionate grounds. However, the compassionate release of a prisoner is difficult to get sanctioned and requires the fulfillment of strict eligibility requirements.

The individual must be in a position to prove that he is really suffering from a debilitating disease or a terminal illness and has got only six months to live at the most. The person must also show that there is a private nursing home, hospital, or medical institute where he will receive appropriate and adequate medical care once he is released from the prison. The individual needs to confirm that his immediate family members or relatives have ample supply of funds to cater to his medical needs. The individual must also assure and convince the Department of Corrections that even if he manages to survive beyond the predicted 6 months period, he will not violate the law or will not pose any harm to the society.


Cost-saving Relief for Prison Budget Woes

(1) Release inmates who are age 70 or above and have served at least 10 years of their sentences for violent crimes. Inmates who meet that age requirement and were convicted for non-violent crimes should be paroled with supervision with less or no restriction on time served;

(2) Compassionate release for infirmed and bedridden inmates, and others who pose no threat to society due to debilitating health and/or physical disabilities, i.e., blind inmates and amputees, etc.;

(3) Repeal the death penalty.  Each death row inmate costs the state approximately $90,000 per year over and above the cost of a prisoner in a maximum security prison.  The answer is not to kill condemned people sooner, since the majority of inmates who were found to be innocent of crimes for which they were convicted had been incarcerated for more than a decade.  Speedier executions would only result in more wrongful executions.

(4) Transfer violent mentally ill offenders to secure mental hospitals to serve their sentences, and disallow early release; and

(5) Release non-violent mentally ill offenders under assisted outpatient treatment programs (AOTs), like Kendra's Law and Laura's Law. Many mentally ill people use street drugs and alcohol to self-treat and land in prison. This often happens because of the deficit in community psychiatric treatment or due to a condition called "anosognosia," which prevents victims from realizing their own mental health problems. AOTs combine court-ordered psychiatric treatment and subsistence assistance for outpatients.

AOT participants experience up to 97% reduction in homelessness, arrests, hospitalizations, and incarceration. AOT programs promote community safety and restore mentally ill offenders to wholesome lifestyles simply because the choice of whether or not to treat their mental illness is removed from offenders exiting prisons and hospitals. This is significantly less expensive than imprisoning people for being sick. Most mentally ill offenders who are currently released from prison without mandates to continue psychiatric care and without provisions for their basic housing and nutrition wind up being re-arrested within a short time, sometimes after violent crimes. The revolving door to prisons is very expensive and dangerous for psychiatric patients, their families, and society at large.

Please see this silent video by U.N.I.O.N., called "The Purpose of Prisons is to Punish Sick People."  (Drag the slider over to 29 seconds to start the video.)

U.N.I.O.N. does excellent advocacy work for prison reform in California and is a model for prisoner activists nationwide.  U.N.I.O.N.'s Director, Dr. Bird, states, " It's time to Get Smart on Crime and leave retribution techniques from the dark ages behind!"

The cost of imprisoning mentally ill offenders is comparable to or more expensive than the cost of hospitalization in regular inpatient facilities.  Imprisonment does not negate the necessity of psychiatric treatment, but rather, it adds certain costs associated with incarceration. There are some mentally ill offenders serving life sentences for offenses done while treatment for their psychiatric disorders was withheld due to restraints on enforced treatment. Timely psychiatric intervention is often withheld under strict guidelines necessitating that mental patients prove to be a danger to self and others. The required proof usually comes in the form of a mental patient Tasered or shot to death during a lunacy arrest, or when a member of the mental patient's family or community is injured or killed by a sick person who was denied psychiatric treatment. Tragedies also occur when sick persons are released too soon from inpatient facilities, usually with little or no provisions for their subsistence and continued psychiatric care.

Disallowing psychiatrists the right to grant early release for mentally ill offenders as stated at number (4) above is important because mental health facilities have released dangerous patients into society who would have remained hospitalized if doctors did not have the right to authorize early release after crimes.  Frequently, released psychiatric patients commit crimes ranging from simple vagrancy to murder, like 32-year-old Na Yong Pak, a woman who was released from a mental health facility in Georgia despite her family's protests and promptly murdered her mom - burned her to death. http://www.ajc.com/metro/content/metro/gwinnett/stories/2009/02/11/burned_woman_mental.html

Numerous other early releases by psychiatrists that resulted in tragedy.  Perhaps hospitals rush to release "nearly stable" patients because of budget restrictions.  The same money or less than is used to imprison Na Yong Pak for murder should have gone to her inpatient treatment, and her mom would still be alive.  She would not be brought back to reality with psychiatric treatment while incarcerated to get her trial-ready (as happens to some psychiatric offenders) and discover the horrible thing she was allowed to do.

The same thing happened in Florida on December 26 2008, when one mentally ill homeless man murdered another.  The victim was a homeless veteran who apparently suffered from PTSD.  Both men reportedly had substance abuse issues, as is common among acute mental patients. Sedreck Singleton murdered Todd Hill in broad daylight as Hill slept on a park bench.  Singleton was arrested for two separate batteries during 2007, and the judge rightly ordered him to a mental hospital instead of prison due to Singleton's long psychiatric history and obvious condition.  Unfortunately, the hospital did not keep him but six months.  Singleton was released, and he killed his roommate at the care home where he lived and then the sleeping veteran, Hill.  Making inpatient treatment accessible saves lives and money.  If Singleton had been sentenced to the hospital for the term he would have had to serve in prison for the two batteries, he could not have killed his roommate or the former marine.

Contact your representatives and support AOTs, repeal the death penalty, and pass H.R. 619.  Rep. Eddie Johnson (D-TX) introduced H.R. 619 to resume Medicaid insurance for inpatient hospital care.  Removal of that insurance source accounted for hospital closings that began in the 60's and continue today.  Closing mental hospitals and reducing funding for community care saved taxpayers no money.  Instead, people like Singleton, Yong Pak, and patients who were killed by officers during lunacy arrests needed treatment, but were deprived of same until proving to be dangerous to self and others. 

Email your representatives at this link:  www.house.gov/writerep/

Email your governors:  www.usa.gov/Contact/Governors.shtml  


The decision to "deinstitutionalize mental patients" and close large numbers of inpatient facilities while seriously restricting non-consentual treatment was championed by many humanitarians in the 1960s and 70s because of concern for institutionalized persons.  With inadequate community care and subsistence provisions and roadblocks on non-consentual treatment for patients in crisis, it simply did not work.  Ultimately, patients were simply shifted from the health care system to the prison system, and no one benefited but prison investors.  This I call THE PLAN.

I communicated recently with a grieving mother whose bipolar son had just committed suicide. Her pleas to his mental health workers that he be admitted as an inpatient had been repeatedly denied, although he met his state's criteria for inpatient treatment. She reported that on her son's psychiatric records was a statement, "It is only a matter of time before he commits a crime worthy of going to prison." I told her that what she saw was the PLAN:  Withhold psychiatric care and preserve mentally ill people for prison in order to benefit prison investments. 

The same PLAN was applied on a smaller scale by Pennsylvania judges who interrupted funding for public juvenile facilities in their area, forcing closures.  They channeled young offenders into private juvenile facilities in exchange for $2.6 million in kickbacks. Around 6,000 children were affected.  When the PLAN was applied nationwide several decades ago to close mental hospital and reduce community care opportunities, 1.25 million mentally ill people wound up imprisoned since their "deinstitutionalization." In the 1960's and 70's, chronic mental patients were actually trans-institutionalized from hospitals to prisons - a more cruel environment that added to their distress, where their mental health needs are frequently ignored.

The restrictions against enforced treatment without proof (drastic proof) of danger to self and others sealed the deal. Mentally ill people are left largely defenseless against future imprisonment. Even when people with acute psychiatric problems do prove they are dangerous to self and others, they are rarely hospitalized, but imprisoned. If mentally ill offenders are lucky, they may get to go to expensive new prison hospitals like Californians are building to warehouse old, sick, and dying inmates.
Limiting job and recreation programs for the youth in society also accomplishes the PLAN's purpose.  Healthy young people are useful in prison work projects, so then they have a job - but without minimum wage restrictions and benefits.  Taxpayers still pay for prison laborers' internment, and many of the products manufactured in prisons are sold in interstate trade.  Additionally, inmates make everything soldiers wear and their canteens and tents.  That is probably why early release programs to relieve prison overcrowding are more apt to release murderers and sex offenders who are over 50 than 20-year-olds who were incarcerated for nonviolent offenses.

Prison reform is needed, and it is already happening.  Progress is being made. Treatment Advocacy Center reports that New Jersey significantly reformed its mental illness treatment law on August 11th when Governor Corzine signed Senate Bill 735 into law. See more progress reports at my HubPages articles: Steps Toward Justice at this link: www.hubpages.com/profile/Mary+Neal

I am pleased to report that Jesus believes in compassionate release for the reformed among us. That is why He came. Also, He healed the sick; He did not punish them for having health conditions as is done in our names to our mentally ill family members and neighbors. More than inmates need to repent - the prison system itself needs to CHANGE. Compassionate releases for elderly, chronically ill, or handicapped inmates plus improved mental health care (on an inpatient and outpatient basis) are humane, cost-saving approaches to prison overcrowding that should not be overlooked.  Mercy is righteous.
And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?~Luke 6:46
For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.~Matthew 6:14-15


My appreciation to Dr. Bird for allowing me to use his photograph of U.N.I.O.N. members requesting compassionate release for their sick, imprisoned loved ones.  Dr. Bird's email address is Rightor1@aol.com
and mailing address is:  B. Cayenne Bird, P.O. Box 340371, Sacramento, Ca. 95834.  U.N.I.O.N.'s website link is http://www.1union1.com/

Thank you for your attention to "Prison Biz News: Compassionate Release v. Prison Hospitals." Your feedback is welcome in the comment field below.  You are invited to join in giving Assistance to the Incarcerated Mentally Ill and helping to highlight other human rights issues by using the PayPal depository in the upper left margin here at http://freespeakblog.blogspot.com/ and/or by sharing this article with your friends and groups.  An ADD THIS button is provided for your convenience.  The link for sharing this article is: http://freespeakblog.blogspot.com/2009/11/prison-biz-news-compassionate-release-v.html

Approximately 1.25 million inmates have mental illness to various degrees.  Acute mental patients do not usually vote, but their family members and friends do.  It is time for differently abled people and their families to overcome the stigma attached to mental and emotional issues and insist on participating in decision-making about mental health laws and policies that significantly impact their lives. Families and friends of the incarcerated mentally ill and others who care about this human rights issue should harness their collective strength as voters to decriminalize mental illness. America must dispense with 14th century answers to a health condition that 1 in 5 Americans has to some degree.  Please visit AIMI online at the link below.
Assistance to the Incarcerated Mentally Ill (AIMI)

Mary Neal

Google "Mary Neal Google Profile" for additional information and links to more of my articles, most of which deal with various justice issues from this laywoman's standpoint - link: http://www.google.com/profiles/MaryLovesJustice

Jail is the last thing that mental patients need, and too often it is the very last thing they experience.  Join in our efforts to decriminalize mental illness.  No one deserves to be punished for having a disability.

Thanks for your interest!


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

As a parent of a son born brain-damaged, I can understand your anguish with the lack of mental hospital funding and care for those who need it. Thank you for mentioning the U.N.I.O.N. efforts and the ongoing needs to educate the public throughout the US

MaryLovesJustice Neal said...

Thank you for your comments. I admire U.N.I.O.N. and its director, Dr. Bird. It is indeed time for families of the mentally ill, brain damaged, and emotionally disturbed to stand together and demand that our loved ones stop being treated differently from people who are physically ill. Everyone else in society who is sick is treated, not punished. Unity makes us stronger. As President Eisenhower stated, “Our real problem, then, is not our strength today; it is rather the vital necessity of action today to ensure our strength tomorrow.” Action can start with a simple email to your representatives and asking them to support H.R. 619. That is a bill by Rep. Eddie Johnson of Texas to resume Medicaid insurance for inpatient treatment in mental health facilities. It was the removal of that funding that had much to do with closing hospitals across America.

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