Prisons are the asylums of our age. We just don't call them that. Then, when people with mental disabilities end up incarcerated, they are horrifically vulnerable to abuse from both prison employees and other prisoners. Moreover, prison staff even when not intentionally abusive, are not well-trained in responding to the needs of people with disabilities, so they use the tools with which they are familiar - enforced compliance, pain and isolation.
From Oregon Public Radio:
Prisoners with severe mental illness are routinely tasered, pepper-sprayed, isolated, and denied access to adequate mental health care - according to a new report by Disability Rights Oregon.The whole report from DRO is here in pdf.
Disability Rights looked at the Behavioral Health Unit at the Oregon State Penitentiary.
That’s where prisoners with severe mental illness, who’ve committed violent crimes, are often placed.
Sarah Radcliffe, an attorney with Disability Rights, says they found prisoners being held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day; and an imbalance of power between security and medical staff, which led to inadequate mental health care. “And we also found that prisoners in this unit are subjected to frequent unnecessary use of force, by staff, often in response to behaviors that are related to their mental illnesses,” she said.
We have to rebuild our whole mental system from the ground up with massive community-based supports, as part of the path of ending mass incarceration.