Prisoners sue Illinois Department of Corrections over solitary confinement

Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform CORE ISSUE:  PfCJR advocates for provision of adequate access to physical and mental health care for current inmates. Will you JOIN us? 

A federal lawsuit filed on Wednesday alleges that the Illinois Department of Corrections misuse of solitary confinement is “cruel, inhumane [and] offensive to basic human decency.”

“We send people to solitary for far too long, for far too little,” said Alan Mills, an attorney on the case.

Mills said people can be put in solitary confinement for minor infractions, like rolling their eyes at a guard.

“No one I know has come out of long term isolation without being severely mentally injured,” he said.

Brian Nelson said he spent 23 years in solitary confinement.

“I paced 18 hours everyday and they had to cut blood blisters off my feet,” Nelson said. Consider an animal in the zoo, we don’t put them in an environment like that.”

Nelson said after solitary he had to be on multiple psychiatric drugs and see a psychiatrist. Even five years after his release, he still struggles with daily tasks, like riding a train or bus. CLICK HERE TO READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE

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Dylann Roof and Assumed Criminality

The recent news of the terrorist attack on the historic Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, SC, has left many of us reeling. The thought that in 2015, that anyone could be subjected to the sort of domestic terrorism popularized by the Klu Klux Klan is truly sickening. As many of my friends and colleagues have joined me in expressing their grief and outrage at this event, one question has continued to come up, time and time again – what can we do to change our nation? How can we alter the hearts and minds of society, so that we no longer produce Dylann Roofs?

Many of the members of Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform are supporters of gun control, but we at PfCJR do not believe that this is the only solution. Whenever a mass shooting occurs, others call for improvements in our care of the mentally ill. While we are proponents for increased resources to treat our mentally ill patients, we do not feel that this addresses the clear racism that is involved in this case.

Dylann Roof said something that was both chilling and very revealing as he reloaded in the church that night, attempting to justify what it was he was doing – he said, “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.” Here he was, a young man who had been welcomed into a place of worship and had now decided to kill 9 innocent people – he attempted to kill more – and he justified his actions partially based on the assumed criminality of those present. Some may not be swayed by just that statement, second hand, but on a website registered to Dylann Roof, he writes a manifesto that explains his thinking on the world, particularly as it pertains to race. By far the largest section is devoted to Blacks. What is truly remarkable is that he attributes his “racial awakening” to the Trayvon Martin case.

Not only did he immediately conclude that Zimmerman must have been in the right, but he further searched the internet for more information on “Black on White crime,” and this led him to the Council of Conservative Citizens. This group is recognized by the Anti-Defamation League as a hate group, and its website showed an impressionable Dylann Roof sensationalized stories that they had hand-picked to attempt to prove that Black people are a significant threat to the lives of White people and White women in particular. This, ultimately, drove Dylann from a posture of looking down upon Black people to deciding that the Black race is a violent threat to White society that needs to be eliminated. In his terrorist plot, he decided to let the world know that Black people needed to be killed in the hopes that others would join his revolution.

And that brings us back to where Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform was founded. The assumed criminality of individuals, often based on race, even when logic and objective evidence would say otherwise, has already led to far too much death and violence that we have all witnessed. In this incident, one hateful, sinister young man, spurred on by communities of White Supremacists, are spreading the misinformation that Black people are criminal-minded by their very nature. And how can you blame them? The rates at which the USA incarcerates Black and Brown human beings are staggering nationwide. These numbers and the media coverage of the interaction between non-whites and the police create the caricature of Black and Brown people as inordinately criminal– this despite the fact that many of them find their way to jail for things that would be better treated by a physician – substance abuse and  untreated attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as examples. Further, studies have shown that while substance abuse rates are remarkably similar across races, arrests for drug use are significantly higher for our minority population.

This is why the Criminal Justice Reform movement is being called “The New Civil Rights Movement.” Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform supports the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Capitol grounds, but we also know that, as a country, we must go beyond symbolism if we are going to alter the minds of those who are determined to hate.

We at PfCJR are focused on ways that we can use our expertise as physicians to create lasting criminal justice reform around our ​core issues​. That said, we firmly believe in the concept of “​Health in All Policies​.” We can and must get involved in discussions around any issue that is large enough that it touches the health of our communities, even if it does so indirectly. We must all fight to change the narrative that nurtures men like Dylann Roof. We must change the path that this country is on. We need criminal justice reform, and the time is now. Will you join us?

Nova Scotia’s mental health court works, study finds

Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform CORE ISSUE:  Decriminalization of mental health and addictive disorders.

An independent review of the provincial mental health court has determined it is effective in reducing reoffenders and treating those suffering from a mental illness.

The study looked at 44 offenders through a two-year period, 22 of whom went through mental health court, and 22 who didn’t but had similar crimes, characteristics and demographics.

  • 50 per cent of those in the study had a substance use disorder
  • those who were initially admitted to mental health court but were expelled from the program reoffended 100 per cent of the time.
  • none of those who went through the mental health court committed a violent offence afterwards, compared with roughly 19 per cent of those who hadn’t gone through this program.

Click here to read the entire article.

A Brief Cost Analysis of Arkansas Mental Health and Prison Reform

Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform CORE ISSUE:  Decriminalization of mental health and addictive disorders.

1. Introduction and Background

The past decade has begun to see a shift in the system of incarcerating mentally-ill persons in Arkansas and across the nation. Based on a number of empirical studies and public-policy reviews, states have begun to question the long-standing reliance on secure confinement of offenders with mental-health issues, its effect on public safety, and on the person’s ability to join society as productive and contributing members of their community in the future.

In Arkansas a wide cross-section of those involved with administering both criminal justice and mental-health care – judges, prosecutors, police, state agency heads, mental-health advocates, families, and the patients themselves – have been able to meet and agree on a number of changes to the former system of “arrest and commit.” A primary focus of their efforts has been the design of a diversion process that places a mentally-ill offender in a treatment program rather than the criminal-justice system. This reform approach would increase the use of community-based alternatives like probation, community service, smaller therapeutic residential programs, and crisis centers.

While widespread agreement about the need for mental-health and prison reform has been achieved, less is known about the exact costs and benefits of these reforms. How will different actions by the courts or state agencies affect the state’s budget for mental-health care and for processing offenders? If cost savings are achieved, how much money may be available for more effective alternatives that help mental-health patients become reestablished in their communities?

Our research found that one year’s worth of trial and jail time for each mentally-ill person costs the state about 20 times as much as crisis treatment and counseling for the same person with mental problems. These are average comparisons, and the national data indicate that the costs of keeping prisoners with mental illness are more expensive than average prisoners; this ratio could be 25:1 or higher. Based on the current jail and prison populations, this could mean savings of millions of budget dollars from the costs of adjudication and incarceration by local and state agencies. – 4 –

It appears that Arkansas has thousands of prisoners with mental-health issues who are receiving less than appropriate care when better medical and mental-health care could be provided at a fraction of the current cost per inmate.

Before we address the financial issues of prison reform and the mentally ill, the next chapter highlights some of the issues that have been addressed by other cities, counties, and states that have been restructuring their mental-health systems to address these problems.

Please CLICK HERE to review the entire study.


Vermont’s Prison Chief Says It’s Time to Decriminalize Drug Possession

Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform CORE ISSUE: Decriminalization of mental health and addictive disorders.

According to an article published in SEVEN DAYS:

The DOC commissioner has been following news reports from Portugal, which in 2000 decriminalized all drugs and has since recorded declines in drug abuse and overdose deaths. He’s decided it’s a brave example that Vermont should emulate.

“We should go to the Portugal model, which is to deal with the addiction and not spend the money on the criminal justice system,” Pallito said. “We spend so much money on corrections that could be done differently. The only way to do it is spend less on corrections and more on treatment.”

Click HERE to read the entire article.

Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency Approves Grant for Allegheny County Mental Health and Justice Housing

Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform (PfCJR) CORE ISSUE:  Decriminalization of mental health and addictive disorders.

HARRISBURG, Pa., June 15, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) Chairman Josh Shapiro’s announced that PCCD approved $149,995 for the Allegheny County Mental Health and Justice Housing Program. This award is a joint funding effort between PCCD and the Department of Human Services Office of Mental Health Substance Abuse Services.

“This project, and projects like it, is an important part of our mission to reduce recidivism rates by identifying those individuals with mental health and addiction issues and get them the help they need so we can prevent their return to the criminal justice system,” said Chairman Shapiro.

Click HERE to read the entire article.

Juvenile offenders to get victim screenings

Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform (PfCJR) CORE ISSUE:  Reform of the juvenile justice system to identify and divert at-risk youth. Statistics reported by the National Institute of Justice that an abused or neglected child has a 59 percent better chance of being arrested as a juvenile and 28 percent better chance as an adult.

HEA1196 will require intake officers at juvenile delinquency facilities to screen minors to determine whether they also are a “child in need of services,” a term used in cases of abuse, neglect or other home problems.

Click HERE to read the full article.

Juvenile incarceration yields less schooling, more crime

Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform CORE ISSUE:  Reform of the juvenile justice system to identify and divert at-risk youth.

A new article on the study is published in the latest issue of the Quarterly Journal of Economics. The co-authors are Doyle and Anna Aizer, an associate professor of economics and public policy at Brown University.

The study looks at cases involving 35,000 juvenile offenders over a 10-year period in Chicago. The Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago created a database on social programs in the state of Illinois that made the research possible.

Indeed, the research project, which studied the long-term outcomes of tens of thousands of teenagers in Illinois, shows that, other things being equal, juvenile incarceration lowers high-school graduation rates by 13 percentage points and increases adult incarceration by 23 percentage points.

Read more at:

Smart Justice — Begins With Health Equity

Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform (PfCJR) CORE ISSUE:  Decriminalization of Mental Health and Addictive Disorders

From the Huffington Post:  As reported by The Treatment Advocacy Center, “Approximately 20 percent of inmates in jails and 15 percent of inmate’s state in prisons have a serious mental illness.” As to substance use, data reveals an estimated 75 percent of inmates have a substance use disorder and over 70 percent of those with serious mental illness have co-occurring disorders. It is no surprise that according to the RAND Corporation, prison reform and reentry efforts must provide access to primary and behavioral health treatment and services in the community to succeed.

Click HERE to read the entire article.

A Silent Curriculum

Below is an excerpt from the moving opinion piece medical student Kathryn C. Brooks wrote for the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

During my medical training thus far, Trayvon Martin lost his life, Michael Brown was left to die in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner was choked by officers as he repeated 11 times that he could not breathe. But these events were rarely mentioned in the lecture hall, my small-group sessions, or morning rounds. Was I supposed to ignore their implications for the lives of my patients, and for my role as their caregiver?

It wasn’t that I didn’t receive any education on race. In fact, there have been many well-intentioned curricular attempts to understand the intersections between race and medicine. Since first year, I’ve been inundated with lecture PowerPoint slides that list diseases with higher rates among minorities. But few of them delved into an explanation as to why these disparities exist. Many electives boasted discussions of health inequalities between communities, but rarely did we discuss how skin color played a role. And in doctoring small groups, we avidly discussed the association between poor health outcomes and poverty, but less enthusiastically talked about why standards of care are still not met for black patients with chest pain. As soon as racism was mentioned, conversations fizzled, highlighting the palpable discomfort in the room.

The entire piece, which embodies the reason Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform was founded, can be found by CLICKING HERE.