Monday, December 3, 2007

Abuse of the Mentally Ill in Michigan Prisons

A prime example of the abuses of mentally ill in prison units occurred at JMF, a Michigan prison facility. In February 2007, ACLU reported on the following case which occurred during August of 2006. A prisoner (whose name was withheld; he was referred to by the initials T.S.) was locked to a cement slab after having flooded his cell during a previous heat wave. He was attached to the slab for four days without adequate medical visits, food, water, or his psychotropic medication. According to ACLU, “…the segregation log indicates that he was screaming.” The only visit he was given during this time failed to include the necessary medical attention. T.S. acquired sores on his wrists and back from his restraints and his positioning atop his own excrement. He died of hypothermia, mainly due to dehydration. (It is important to note that this event occurred during a heat wave, hence his reasoning for flooding his cell initially.)

After this case was discovered and charged, the state was ordered to provide more suitable mental health staff as well as to refrain from using ‘mechanical restraints outside of a medical setting.’ These conditions have yet to be implemented at the prison. This case also prompted coverage by 60 Minutes and an investigation into statewide prison status by Michigan’s governor.

Not only do the actions of the staff fall under the category of negligence and malpractice, but the withholding of necessary food and water impinges on T.S.’s actual right to life. This right is guaranteed not only by the ICCPR but also the UDHR, U.S. Constitution, and the State of Michigan’s Constitution. Additionally, this action (starvation) is considered torture and thus opposes the Convention Against Torture. Other actions of excessive punishment have been seen in previous cases regarding the prison.

With some additional research, we have learned that the initials T.S. represent Timothy Souders, a 21-year-old with bipolar disorder. As aforementioned, 60 Minutes did a special on his case and this report can be found here:
Additionally, his family has created an online petition aiming to reduce the use of restraints in the prison system, which can be found here: If you are interested in this particular case or would like more information regarding the treatment of mentally ill in America's prison systems, the following links will aid in your search.

from Human Rights Watch:

from Treatment Advocacy Center:

from PBS:

from BBC:

from Mental Health Reform:

BESIDES RESEARCH, what can you do?

Educating yourself on important matters is, always, the first step in creating change. But where do we go from there, after we have exhausted our search engines and catalogs? One way is to promote the information that you have acquired by sharing it with others --- create your own blog, start a campaign, rally! If you're feeling so inspired, join us in a promotion of Timothy Souder's case. Volunteer your time and effort to join with his family and friends in rallying for less restraints of mentally ill prisoners, more adequate health and mental care, and the betterment of living standards in America's overcrowding prisons.

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