prisons


In the United States, there is a large stigma regarding mental health issues. The Mayo clinic website explains this well.  However also implies that the age of stigma has passed.  It hasn’t. People seem much more comfortable saying they have diabetes or asthma than saying they have a mental illness.  For many years this has resulted in unequal treatment of mental and physical illness and in employment and insurance, but that may be changing, and it must.

An editorial in yesterday’s LaCrosse (Wisconsin) Tribune notes that:

[I]f we continue to let mental illnesses go untreated because of paltry insurance benefits and under-funding of public efforts at mental health care and intervention, we’ll continue to pay an escalating monetary cost — in law enforcement, in prisons, in emergencycare at the county level of people in extremis.

Last week, the congress and Obama administration passed new laws that are intended to bring equality to the treatment of mental health issues.  In a New York Times article, Robert Pear said this:

Insurers cannot set higher co-payments and deductibles or stricter limits on treatment for mental illness and addiction disorders. Nor can they establish separate deductibles for mental health care and for the treatment of physical illnesses.

Such disparities are common in the insurance industry. By sweeping away such restrictions, doctors said, the rules will make it easier for people to obtain treatment for a wide range of conditions, including depression, autism,schizophreniaeating disorders and alcohol and drug abuse.

Unfortunately, this may not be the case — at least not for everyone. The same New York Times author points out that:

The rules apply to group health insurance plans of the kind typically offered by employers. Federal health officials said the rules did not apply to the individual insurance market, where policies are sold directly to individuals and families. However, some states have laws that apply to the individual market.

Even if the laws apply to individual insurance buyers, it may not be enough. Robert Preidt’s article in BusinessWeek’s Health Day News from yesterday points out:

Fears about losing status at work and about confidentiality are among the main reasons that many American workers are more hesitant to seek treatment for mental health issues than for physical health problems, according to a national survey released this week by the American Psychiatric Association.

Very few of the editorials call for  what I think is equally necessary: equal and adequate treatment of mental illnesses in the prison system and administered by the courts.  Society’s destigmatized acceptance of mental health will take a lot longer.

You already guessed that I am going to start out with something in sports and then actually talk teen/kid politics, right?  Oh good.  Then no one will be disappointed.

I watched the BCS Rose Bowl last week because UT played and I live in Longhorn Land.  While the rest of my friends were yelling about quarterbacks and kickers and coaches, I focused in on something else entirely.  The TV announcers kept focusing on Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram (who probably had a good game, right?), but instead of talking about his running or catching or something relating to football, they kept talking about his dad.  Cool.  His dad must have been some kind of hero?  Maybe single dad who raised him? An astronaut?  A war hero?  No, another football player (OK, so maybe the announcers knew him), but a football player who is now in jail.  And giving his son moral support.  Wha??  Gimme a break!  His dad is in jail.  What else is he going to be doing with his time?

The news articles did the same thing. Here’s one from the Daily News:

Alabama running back Mark Ingram plays in Rose Bowl as father watches from prison

But more than that is on Ingram. His father, a wide receiver for theSuper Bowl XXV-winning Giants, will be watching from behind bars. He is in a federal jail in Queens awaiting sentencing on bank fraud, money laundering and failure to surrender on charges. The sentence reportedly will be meted out tomorrow.

The third charge stems from Ingram Sr.’s failure to report to a federal facility in Kentucky in December of 2008 to begin serving a 92-month sentence on the first two charges.

He risked the longer sentence so he could watch his son’s freshman season and was apprehended in the family’s hometown of Flint, Mich., just hours before Alabama played in the 2009 Sugar Bowl.

“It shows the type of relationship we have, the type of bond that we have as father and son,” Ingram said. “That he’d sacrifice that? Any son has to love that and appreciate that.”

That’s not sacrifice! That’s going to make Mark the younger feel guilty when his dad serves the extra time because he was supporting Mark!  Look ten minutes into the future. Duh!

I know that feel-good stories sell, but let’s focus here.  The dad is in jail because he committed crimes and then ran away from the law.  He is a convict.   He is not there because he was wrongfully imprisoned.  And he’s not there because that’s the best place for him to support his son’s career.

How many words were said about Mark Ingram’s mom?  She was at the game.  I bet she even raised him.  I bet she’s the one he calls when he needs to talk.  I bet she cooks for him when he goes home.

WTF is wrong with these people?

Dear Levi & Mercede,

I was sorry to hear about your mom’s arrest and plea for drug use and selling drugs.  I was even more sorry that it’s in the newspapers and on the blogs, and that people are making fun of her.

I am around your age (nearly 18) and my mom has been in jail for almost eight years on drug charges, so I know some of what you are going through.

I am also completely a busybody and am going to use this blog post to give both of you some advice.

  1. Go to Alateen.  Or ACOA.  Or someplace that’s NOT your church where you can learn about addicts and addiction how none of this is your fault and that you can’t cure your mom.  Also, Mercede, if there’s a support group in your town or in your HS for kids who have a parent in prison, GO!
  2. Mercede, I don’t know who you are living with these days, but my brother became my guardian when he was 18, and he was way too young.  And that’s without being a father himself or having reporters and photographers following him around.  I hope that you stay with a family, a whole, real family, at least until you finish HS.
  3. You will find out really soon who your real friends are and who thinks a lot less of you because your mom is in jail.  Sometimes even good friends can be insensitive, but at least they still like you for who YOU are.  Some kids are incredibly creepy and think it’s cool to know someone who knows someone in jail.  Stay away from them.  Same thing with overly curious adults.
  4. People will ask you what they can do to help.  It’s a dumb question, but if they ask twice, tell them to do something to improve life for prisoners and provide treatment for addicts.  You may even want to join organizations that encourage treatment instead of prison for addicts.
  5. Stand up for your mom. Make sure that the lawyers and guardians and corrections people all know that someone is watching and that someone cares. I don’t visit anymore, but I do have an adult in my life who communicates with my mom and with the prison.
  6. Because your mom is an addict like my mom, and because we watched our moms use drugs instead of facing problems head-on, all three of us can become an addict more easily than most people.  So learn what the signs are, and be careful, and watch out for each other.

We all need to work on making this country less inclined to incarcerate addicts and more inclined to help them find treatment.  And that starts with making sure that drug use is not a crime.  Prohibition didn’t work for alcohol and it’s not working for drugs.

I hope you do go to Alateen and counseling and get all the help you need to not have to ride your mother’s roller coaster addiction.  You didn’t cause it and you can’t cure it, but you can learn healthy ways to get through the next few years.

Your friend,

Cassie

These judges should be put in jail in solitary. How much hope have they cost the kids who were innocent? Or who were only guilty of small things? What would they do if it was their own kids?

This is from the New York Times:

Judges Plead Guilty in Scheme to Jail Youths for Profit

Niko J. Kallianiotis for The New York Times

Hillary Transue was sentenced to three months in juvenile detention for a spoof Web page mocking an assistant principal.

Published: February 12, 2009

At worst, Hillary Transue thought she might get a stern lecture when she appeared before a judge for building a spoof MySpace page mocking the assistant principal at her high school in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. She was a stellar student who had never been in trouble, and the page stated clearly at the bottom that it was just a joke.

Prosecutors say Judges Michael T. Conahan, and Mark A. Ciavarella Jr., above, took kickbacks to send teenagers to detention centers.

Instead, the judge sentenced her to three months at a juvenile detention center on a charge of harassment.

She was handcuffed and taken away as her stunned parents stood by.

“I felt like I had been thrown into some surreal sort of nightmare,” said Hillary, 17, who was sentenced in 2007. “All I wanted to know was how this could be fair and why the judge would do such a thing.”

The answers became a bit clearer on Thursday as the judge, Mark A. Ciavarella Jr., and a colleague, Michael T. Conahan, appeared in federal court in Scranton, Pa., to plead guilty to wire fraud and income tax fraud for taking more than $2.6 million in kickbacks to send teenagers to two privately run youth detention centers run by PA Child Care and a sister company, Western PA Child Care.

While prosecutors say that Judge Conahan, 56, secured contracts for the two centers to house juvenile offenders, Judge Ciavarella, 58, was the one who carried out the sentencing to keep the centers filled.

“In my entire career, I’ve never heard of anything remotely approaching this,” said Senior Judge Arthur E. Grim, who was appointed by the State Supreme Court this week to determine what should be done with the estimated 5,000 juveniles who have been sentenced by Judge Ciavarella since the scheme started in 2003. Many of them were first-time offenders and some remain in detention.

The case has shocked Luzerne County, an area in northeastern Pennsylvania that has been battered by a loss of industrial jobs and the closing of most of its anthracite coal mines.

And it raised concerns about whether juveniles should be required to have counsel either before or during their appearances in court and whether juvenile courts should be open to the public or child advocates.

If the court agrees to the plea agreement, both judges will serve 87 months in federal prison and resign from the bench and bar. They are expected to be sentenced in the next several months. Lawyers for both men declined to comment.

You’d think that they would DEFINITELY be going to jail, right?  Forever?  But the article talks about their pensions!  Like they ought to be around to enjoy them or not!

(more…)

animated texas flagSometimes I think I live in an entirely backwards state that does more harm than good. Other days I read stories like these that make me proud to be a Texan:

El Paso denies feds access to road for border fence

EL PASO, Texas — The country’s largest border city has decided to block efforts by federal authorities to use an access road that cuts across city property to work on existing border fencing.

The El Paso City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to block the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Albuquerque district, from using the access road.

The vote, which City Councilman Steve Ortega described as “symbolic,” is the latest salvo by cities and property owners opposed to plans to build several hundred miles of new fencing in Texas.

“They haven’t made a case of why we need a new fence,” City Councilwoman Susie Byrd said after the vote.

Byrd said she was most concerned by what she described as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s lack of cooperation with local communities.

“The first time we’ve heard from them was today,” Byrd said.

In El Paso, Homeland Security officials have proposed replacing stretches of fencing near the city’s downtown that have been in place for well over a decade. There is also a plan to add new fencing that would cover more than a half-mile near one of the city’s international bridges.

…..Councilman Steve Ortega said the vote sends an important message about the city’s opposition to what he said was a symbolic attempt to secure the border.

“We met symbolism with symbolism,” Ortega said.

Austinites protest ICE presence in Travis Co. jail

Austinites protested federal immigration agents presence inside Travis County jails Tuesday on the front steps of the building.

The group says giving Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, an office inside the county jail isn’t fair. So along with protesting, the group delivered a letter of protest to the sheriff Tuesday.

The crowd also took turns voicing concerns of racial profiling and of dividing families. Leaders are worried an increased presence of ice will compromise public safety. They say documented and undocumented immigrants will fear reporting crimes because they could be removed from the country.

Sheriff Greg Hamilton responded to their concerns, saying it’s his job to keep the community safe and that means working with other law enforcement agencies.

I’ve written before about prison camps for teenagers and the abuse that happens there, but this one’s the worst I have seen described INSIDE the U.S. Nothing, NOTHING these girls did could justify this. Never!

AP: 13,000 abuse claims in juvie centers (AP)

ADVANCE FOR MARCH 3; graphic shows state by state statistics on juvenile abuse; two sizes; 1c x 2 1/8 inches; 46.5 mm x 54 mm; 3c x 5 7/8 inches; 146 mm x 149.2 mmAP – The Columbia Training School — pleasant on the outside, austere on the inside — has been home to 37 of the most troubled young women in Mississippi.

If some of those girls and their advocates are to be believed, it is also a cruel and frightening place.

The school has been sued twice in the past four years. One suit brought by the U.S. Justice Department, which the state settled in 2005, claimed detainees were thrown naked in to cells and forced to eat their own vomit. The second one, brought by eight girls last year, said they were subjected to “horrendous physical and sexual abuse.” Several of the detainees said they were shackled for 12 hours a day.

These are harsh and disturbing charges — and, in the end, they were among the reasons why state officials announced in February that they will close Columbia. But they aren’t uncommon.

Across the country, in state after state, child advocates have deplored the conditions under which young offenders are housed — conditions that include sexual and physical abuse and even deaths in restraints. The U.S. Justice Department has filed lawsuits against facilities in 11 states for supervision that is either abusive or harmfully lax and shoddy.

Still, a lack of oversight and nationally accepted standards of tracking abuse make it difficult to know exactly how many youngsters have been assaulted or neglected.

(more…)

I write about prisons and prisoners a lot, so you might never know that it’s a really hard subject for me to write about, but it is. It’s not just numbers and statistics and information; it’s family. My mom is in prison, on drug charges, and would be much better off in a drug treatment program or in a psych hospital. But, like more than 1% of the adult population in the United States, she is in prison.

It’s even worse here in Texas, which leads the nation in inmate population. This is from Channel 10 in Amarillo:

Tougher state and federal sentencing is one of the main reason for the ballooning prison population. Legal experts say new laws will increase that population because punishment ranges are being extended every year. So people will get longer sentences. But some say it’s a problem that is much more deeply rooted in Texas history. For instance 1 in 9 inmates are of black males. With hispanics being a close second.

“Our system in Texas is absolutely broken that’s why all these people are coming out of prison now on DNA results. In 50 years we’ll look back and we’ll see our system incarcerated lots of innocent people. Former Texas Prison Board Chair Selden Hale said. Hale says he believes the numbers are more like 3 in one hundred blacks that are locked up and 4 and 100 hispanic.

I wonder if anyone really does want to change the current system.  Prisons are big business in the U.S. There is a private corrections industry in addition to the large number of federal, state and local jobs that revolve around guarding, feeding and monitoring prisoners. Someone suggested to me that prisons are our society’s way of NOT dealing with the poor and “stupid” among us.

In California,  

As the costs for fixing the state’s troubled corrections system rocket higher, California is headed for a dubious milestone — for the first time the state will spend more on incarcerating inmates than on educating students in its public universities.

Based on current spending trends, California’s prison budget will overtake spending on the state’s universities in five years. No other big state in the country spends close to as much on its prisons compared with universities.

And that does not take into account how many people are involved in each system. It’s even worse in other states:

Those states are (in order of spending the most proportionally on prisons in 2007): Vermont, Michigan, Oregon, Connecticut and Delaware. The state spending the least on prisons relative to higher education was Minnesota, where for every dollar spent on higher education only 17 cents was spent on corrections. The average for all states was 60 cents, nearly double the 32 cents spent 20 years earlier. Only three states saw gains in spending on higher education, relative to corrections: Alabama, Nevada and Virginia

This link allows you to

Click on a state to see how much its incarceration rate has grown, how its spending on prisons and higher education has changed, what proportion of its prisoners are drug offenders, and the racial disparity between its general and prison populations.

What does all this say about our society?  Nothing good.  Time for us to start thinking about people instead of prisoners, inmates or offenders.  Time to start thinking about helping people with drug problems instead of throwing them in jail for decades.  Time to start treating mental health problems instead of waiting until those problems lead people towards crime.  Time to start acting like a society instead of acting like prison wardens.

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