Eric: I'm Eric Balaban. I'm a Senior Staff Counsel with the National Prison Project of the ACLU. A prisoner with serious mental illness who is actively psychotic, who is hallucinating, who suffers from delusions, may not be able to conform his conduct to a prison rule. And instead of taking that into account, of speaking with a mental health clinician or that particular prisoner's doctor, they're punished for that behavior. That punishment can result in their being housed in a segregation unit, where they're locked down for 23 hours a day, where they're denied access to basic services, denied access to human interaction, and it creates a vicious cycle, where that prisoner will grow more symptomatic over time, and less capable of conforming their conduct to prison rules.
The evidence is pretty clear that if you put someone with a pre-existing mental illness in those conditions, 23-hour isolation, a lack of meaningful human contact, and a lack of meaningful mental health interventions, they're going to suffer. And they're going to grow more symptomatic. They're going to suffer from more hallucinations. They're going to grow more psychotic. They're going to grow less compliant with their treatment, and they're going to grow less compliant with prison rules and regulation, which again can keep them in that system for months or years at a time.
It's a sort of classic Eighth Amendment violation. It's cruel and unusual. It doesn't serve any legitimate penological purpose, and prisoners are at risk of unnecessarily suffering, both the seriously mentally ill and those even who are not mentally ill who are likely to grow symptomatic if they're exposed long-term to those conditions, and this has been litigated around the country. There have been a number of cases that have found that prisoners, particularly the seriously mentally ill, when exposed to these conditions, do grow more ill, and they're also denied real effective treatment. For someone who's seriously mentally ill, it's not enough simply to give them a pill and to expect them to get better. That form of treatment, medication, though it's important, has to be tied to other forms of treatment that require them to have some interaction with other humans. It's known as psychosocial rehabilitation. It's the standard of care for persons with serious mental illness. If you don't provide them with those services, what physicians have found and what the studies have shown, is those persons will not only grow more symptomatic, but they'll also to begin to grow non-compliant with the treatment. They'll begin to refuse their medications, refuse to leave their cells, and they'll deteriorate physically.
One thing that people do have to grasp is that most men and women who are incarcerated are getting out. And that… it's not just a reflection of our humanity how these people are treated, but it is a reflection of what kind of society we want, free society we want. Do we want people who have not received adequate treatment, who leave prisons and jails untreated without appropriate care to be hitting our streets? Or do we want a safer society, a more humane society and one that's safer for all of us?
Narrator: The AVID Prison Project, Amplifying Voices of Inmates with Disabilities, is a collaboration between The Arizona Center for Disability Law, Disability Law Colorado, The Advocacy Center of Louisiana, Disability Rights New York, Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities of South Carolina, Disability Rights Texas, Disability Rights Washington, and The National Disability Rights Network. This video was produced by Rooted in Rights.
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The AVID Prison Project is a collaboration between The Arizona Center for Disability Law, Disability Law Colorado, The Advocacy Center of Louisiana, Disability Rights New York, Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities of South Carolina, Disability Rights Texas, Disability Rights Washington and The National Disability Rights Network.