Voters Must Demand Sane Prison Reforms to Protect the Public Safety
Dr. B. Cayenne Bird

Dr. B. Cayenne Bird is an ordained minister and a 37-year veteran op-ed journalist and publisher. She volunteers her time as founder and director of United for No Injustice, Oppression or Neglect UNION. The UNION is active in prison reform and criminal justice issues. She is a mother and grandmother and focuses on human rights and restorative justice. She is also the host of television series "Cayenne Common Sense" and publishes a daily online newsletter to subscribers. 

July 26, 2006

It's excellent news that the Federal Receiver Robert Sillen has recommended building new hospitals instead of prisons and that Governor Schwarzenegger has announced initial support of that idea.

What is critical in these reform efforts is that new hospitals are not put under the control of the Department of Mental Health or the Department of Corrections. These are two failed agencies that have a philosophy of punishing versus healing both medically and mentally ill prisoners. The need is clearly more for mental hospitals than general medical hospitals although this has not yet been defined.

I had a recent short talk at the July 12 hearing in San Francisco with Mr.Robert Sillen a couple days before his recommendation that new hospitals be built about taking the 27,000 mentally ill prisoners completely out of the system. It is a well known fact that their maltreatment is making them much sicker than before they were incarcerated. 

They are being prosecuted to extend their sentences while in prison

This prosecution of the mentally ill for minor acts such as masturbation is a racket.

Please take a look at how the mentally ill are routinely abused in our prisons, as well as those who have committed suicide, are on hunger strikes or who have “died of natural causes” in these incident reports shamelessly posted at the rogue guard’s website. 

These routine entries (especially April 29) will sicken anyone with a soul. It is difficult to differentiate which ones are the sickest – the captors committing this abuse or the prisoners they have condemned to an existence of hell on earth simply because they are ill.

The prosecution of mentally ill inmates over minor crimes after they are imprisoned is a very cruel way to keep the prison stocked with sick people. The goal here is obviously to continue to engage in slave labor and exploit the poor who are too uneducated to vote better politicians into office who would stand up against this inhumane practice.

Sick people make poor prison slaves and they endanger the public safety. It is a documented fact that the mentally ill have the highest rate of recidivsm. It isn't because they are "evil" - it's because they are sick.

It would be smart on crime to adopt an attitude of healing vs. torture. Even the line prison guards agree with my views on this, most do not want terminally ill, addicts and mentally ill people in the prisons. 

Guards are simply untrained in how to handle these poor folks. It was the mishandling of Inmate Blaylock that resulted in C.O. Manuel Gonzalez' death at Chino but nobody is holding anyone accountable for their wrongdoing in the housing misplacement. Blaylock will be over- punished for it, even though he would predictably break in the intolerable environment of prisons with his documented history. 

Building hospitals outside of DMH and CDC is probably the one place where many people can come together to take the mentally ill out of the prisons and out of the criminal justice system completely. Why are we locking up mentally ill children in the dangerous and predatory environment of Juvenile Hall?

During the past eight years that I have dedicated to my life to prison reform as an unpaid volunteer (important to know as others involved are making a fortune off this human misery), I've seen this same circumstance of mentally ill people acting out repeat itself again and again. There is no benefit to public safety in housing the mentally ill in prisons and punishing them because they cannot follow the rules. Not only is it primitive, it's barbaric and most of them end up in cruel isolation FOR YEARS where they are left to die alone and in pain.

Consideration needs to be given to the families who have little or no access to their loved ones once they go into isolation. Family ties are what give most people a reason for living and CDC's policies do everything to discourage those family ties. It is almost impossible for the family of a mentally ill prisoner to visit them on a regular basis due to the shortage of available appointments.

If the guards happened to beat them up that week, they simply tell visitors "he doesn't want to come to the window" to hide the bruises.

Prison employees not only break the body, mind and spirit of the prisoners but of their children as well. Intentionally induced stress causes physical and mental diseases. The cost of medical care could be greatly reduced by civil treatment and real therapy.

Most mentally ill prisoners are also physically ill and many of them acquired their illness after incarceration. Who wouldn't become sick in these horrific places of torment?

There are no statistics anywhere that prisons, jails and harsh punishments do one thing to reduce crime. When did executing one mentally ill prisoner ever discourage another mentally ill person from acting out.? These are simply practices from the dark ages that do more to harm the public than to protect us because most prisoners eventually return to their communities. The goal should be to bring them back in better shape not worse.

I am very encouraged that the National Association of the Mentally Ill (NAMI) is moving to support the idea of taking the mentally ill completely out of prisons in California and nationwide.

Our UNION has a number of parents who are also members of NAMI with ll00 chapters nationwide who are doing their best to awaken this sleeping giant who has been reluctant to get involved in politics in the past.

Two important articles have appeared in the past week or so on their agreement that something must be done to get the mentally ill out of prisons, jails and juvenile halls.

While it is an indisputable fact that government can't do one thing right, I would rather take my chances with the creation of a new agency that is run by healers - doctors and nurses, social workers where guards have a minor role. 

One of the biggest problems in the system now, and the reason that ethical nurses and doctors usually won't work in prisons in the first place, is the routine mistreatment of the mentally ill. They cannot bear the unnecessary cruelty that is routinely taking place in these bloodhouses so they leave or never work there in the first place. People who have souls cannot bear this type of inhumanity.

I would like to share a letter written to me by a mental health nurse who tried to get the cooperation of prison administrators when she complained vehemently about unnecessary use of force on mentally ill prisoners.

Begin letter from CDC nurse

"Dear Rev. Cayenne

It is no secret how corrections has power and punitive treatment towards those who are mentally ill. A mentally decompensated inmate/patient is not treated the same way as someone who is in the community setting who has also decompensated mentally. 

In prison, correction is the primary procedure in dealing with someone gravely disabled mentally , I find this to be an outrage as I am completely dumbfounded that mental healthcare professionals that are witnessing this have not done something about this by now? 

We have a union and I can not believe this has been an acceptable practice of treatment for those suffering with psychosis or psychotic episodes. 

When I went to the administrators to voice this outrage, they too say they are disgusted by this but yet it still goes on.

To me this is a conflict of ethics it goes against our oath of practice. Some often remind me that these are prisoners or this is a prison which totally confuses me because i was never trained to discriminate, or to practice my nursing skills any differently regardless of what someone might have done.

I believe my education and knowledge of treatment, care and interventions that are standard practice for treatment of the mentally ill are considered hogwash in the CDC system . Correctional treatment and policy is the first line of treatment when handling this population. Quite bluntly the two don't mix! 

Has corrections ever had to "cell extract" a diebetic patient because his blood sugar was too high-(the correctional way of teaching him how to control his diabetes?) No! However they expect a psychotic person to control their behavior or snap out of it or they will be cell extracted, placed in Ad Seg (forever).

They are being punished for being psychotic!! 

Study the community and what goes on in community psych hosp all of them have assaultive training courses for Mental healthcare workers, pro-active training teaching staff how to protect themselves without ever assaulting back.

Because we are to never abuse a patient that is our oath. But we diagnos an inmate with some psychiatric disorder, shoot him up with anti-psychotics, place him in the EOP program or CCCMS and then we send the correctional officers down and cell extract the same person we are treating and then we isolate him in Ad Seg after an assaultive psychotic moment. 

What a bunch of morons! I am pulling my hair out here. AWWWW! Disgusting. 

Corrections and mental healthcare don't mix! God save the mentally ill in prisons and God have mercy on those who punish those who are tormented mentally. Hell is worse then prison and everyone will be judged and tried in the end. If justice does not prevail here in sweet ole USA it will in the true promised land. I am always here if i can help. Thanks for allowing me to vent. I just can't get over this nonsense

No wonder the nurses won't stay.

CDC Registered Nurse"

I have withheld her name because such a letter to a journalist or person in authority would at the very least result in death threats, broken windows in her home and car, and the firing of any medical professional who stands up for the prisoners. She is already experiencing extreme harassment which is the standard treatment for anyone who defends an inmate. Since she wrote me the above letter, she had no choice but to turn in her resignation. Another great registered nurse lost.

Many deaths and maiming of prisoners could be prevented by moving them out from under the control of the Department of Mental Health and Department of Corrections immediately. The health care workers would be more encouraged to work for a new agency, most of the guards would be happy with this as well, and CDC would not be empowered with millions more dollars to build isolation torture units.

The emergencies of the mentally ill are never handled at any level of the bureaucracy and those "receivers" who are paid millions really have no influence or ability to save people in crisis within the prison system. We are praying that Mr. Sillen will be different.

Those who profit from the human suffering will not like this suggestion, well thought out by the UNION family members of prisoners with my input that we hope gets serious consideration. After a decade of witnessing one preventable death after another due to abuse and deliberate indifference we can only pray that this can take place. 

It was a big mistake to throw the mentally ill to the streets in the first place and then to put them in prisons and jails where they deteriorate We don't treat ferocious tigers in the zoo in this manner. They live far better existences than the mentally ill who are innocent due to their conditions.

Why would we as voters allow human beings to be treated as less than an animal with our taxpayer dollars? This is not what Jesus would do, or Buddha or the Creator. This inhumanity in violation of all religions except Satanic worshippers.

There is no doubt that some people need to be removed from society but this should be done in a much more healing manner. Moving the 27,000 mentally ill out of the control of CDC and DMH would free up beds and put the sick where they belong. In this heat crisis, the thousands of mentally ill prisoners on psychotropic medications cannot be subjected to temperatures of more than 90 degrees. I have reports at prisons statewide that this rule is currently be broken at great risk to lives. In a hospital setting, these common abuses (and covered up deaths) would not be as routine.

The prison guards should be required to have at least an Associate of Arts degree with required courses in stress management, nutrition and medical training. They are causing many of the breakdowns and mental illness by trying to enforce rules on people who can’t follow the rules. When they can’t pepper spray, do cruel cell extractions, deny them visits or other privileges trying to gain “compliance” and “control”, they send them out to the local DA to get prosecuted or more years added to their time.

These practices are costing the taxpayers millions and the human toll is immeasurable. Your letters to editors are more likely to be seen than letters to politicians, but the public needs to make this outcry on behalf of people who cannot fight for themselves. Law enforcement likes to create fear of the mentally ill to justify their budgets and build the prison industry ever higher.

The healers deserve the jobs more than the punishers. Besides being “smart on crime” and programs of prevention of substance abuse and mental illness are better than empowering bullies with guns, tasers, nightsticks and pepper spray to declare a war on the people for the sake of politics and jobs. Let them go get work as bar bouncers where they belong.

There are 3 million people of voting age attached to a state prisoner, each of whom is capable of registering the poor to vote and bringing 20 people to the polls on election day to put people into office who will represent them and not law enforcement labor unions.

Here are some current news story links that cite many more benefits to taking the mentally ill out of the criminal justice system altogether. They are overloading the courts, the jails, and have a high recidivism rate because punishment is contraindicated for the mentally ill. This is common sense public safety, so much more intelligent than the failed retributive practices and fear mongering from the dark ages.

Nothing has changed since Human Rights Watch published this article in 2003. 

United States: Mentally Ill Mistreated in Prison

More Mentally Ill in Prison Than in Hospitals

(New York, October 22, 2003) Mentally ill offenders face mistreatment and neglect in many U.S. prisons, Human Rights Watch charged in a report released today.

Step toward ending private hell in prison

Prisons, jails raise red flag for state mental health official 

Statistics show about 1 in 4 or 1 in 5 state prisoners suffer from mental illness

Note: I hope those involved at higher levels in this reform keep it in mind that through the many years of our UNION’s public education, there is far less of an attitude of victimization amongst the families which will result in more lawsuits for wrongful deaths and preventable injuries and suffering. Much of this crisis has persisted since Pete Wilson overflowed the prisons because the families were too fearful and did not get together to file lawsuits. It also persisted because the egos of the politicians were too large to admit the scope of the problem

While the big picture, long term plans are being made, short term emergencies also need to be handled. The federal receiver’s appointment is an answer to many people’s prayers. Other states in similar crises began release of non violent offenders, terminally ill and advised judges to do alternative sentencing within days.

Not California. Why not?

The bodies are still stacking up. These desperate families aren’t going to just go away and the days of their fearful silence are over. It will be much cheaper to reform it than to pay for lawsuits. 

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