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Old 10-27-2003, 01:49 PM
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Default Prisons vs. Hospitals / 20% of the state's inmates are mentally ill

http://www.pe.com/localnews/inland/s...dic.59bbc.html

Special Needs

About 20 percent of the state's inmates are mentally ill, officials say, and correctional facilities are adding space and services to help them

01:13 AM PST on Monday, October 27, 2003

By STEFANIE FRITH / The Press-Enterprise

Prison isn't about throwing someone behind bars and tossing away the key. It's about finding out why inmates have committed crimes, and what California can do to help them, prison experts said.

About 20 percent of the state's 160,000 inmates are mentally ill and 22 percent of the state's 4,500 wards have mental health issues, officials said.

Human Rights Watch, an independent organization in New York, reported last week that as many as one in six of the 2.1 million Americans in jail and prison are seriously mentally ill -- a figure nearly three times the number of people in state mental hospitals.

"You can throw a rock in a (prison) yard and chances are you will hit someone who has special needs," said Phil Shimmin, program administrator at the Heman G. Stark Youth Correctional Facility in Chino. He said California is changing its attitude about how it treats mentally ill inmates.

Changing philosophy

With more and more mentally ill inmates and wards being sentenced each year to state prisons and correctional youth facilities, the state has had to take a deeper look at how it treats its mentally ill prisoners, said Margot Bach, spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections.

Several recent lawsuits also have forced the state to start building more medical facilities for wards and inmates, as well as relax regulations against certain prisoners, such as those in isolation units at Pelican Bay State Prison in Northern California, she said.

Heman G. Stark is one of four youth correctional facilities receiving new buildings to treat the severely mentally ill, said Paul Woodward, mental health program administrator for the California Youth Authority. A court mandate in 1999 forced the youth authority to build the facilities, said Shimmin.

The Correctional Treatment Center at Heman G. Stark will open in February and will have 11 beds to treat wards who are severely depressed, on suicide watch, are developmentally disabled or on heavy medication. On a recent weekday morning, the single-story brick building was surrounded by razor wire and the sound of jackhammers and wards scrubbing floors for the disabled and padded rooms.

Keith Wattley, a staff attorney with the Prison Law Office, a San Francisco-based advocacy organization for inmates and their families, said the state has made dramatic improvements to its care for the mentally ill. A 1993 lawsuit, Coleman v. Davis, claims the California Department of Corrections was not providing adequate mental health care, Wattley said. The case is pending.

The lawsuit, and others like it, have prompted "a major shift" in the CDC's mission, said Wattley. "It requires a substantial change in the way officials and staff approach and interact with these inmates."

Part of the Coleman case would also prohibit the state from placing inmates on certain medications at the desert facilities of Chuckawalla Valley and Ironwood state prisons in Blythe due to the extreme heat, Wattley said. He said there have been cases where inmates have died from the high temperatures at those prisons.

Prisons vs. hospitals

While the state is doing a good job taking care of mentally ill inmates, it is unfortunate that many prisoners are sentenced to prison for petty crimes, said Dr. H. Richard Lamb, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Southern California.

"It's bad enough to be labeled as mentally ill. Try finding a job if you are," said Lamb, who is working on a paper about mentally ill inmates. "Then add the label of criminal. That really makes it difficult."

Lamb said California needs to stop closing state mental hospitals, where criminals with petty crimes could be sent instead of prison. Often, these small crimes, such as robbery and burglary, are committed by people with a mental illness, who may believe "everything in the store belongs to them."

The California Department of Corrections is trying to do what it can for those with mental illnesses, and Bach agreed that many of the state's inmates should be at hospitals instead. It is expensive to treat them, and they pose a risk to correctional officers and other inmates, she said. Medical care is 20 percent of the department's budget, Bach said.

"It used to be a burglar was a burglar," said Shimmin of Heman G. Stark facility. "It's just not that way anymore. Now those burglars are ending up in special ed."

Reach Stefanie Frith at (909) 893-2114 or sfrith@pe.com

PICTURE:
William Wilson Lewis III / The Press-Enterprise
A youth is interviewed by personnel at Heman G. Stark Youth Correctional Facility in Chino. The Correctional Treatment Center at Heman G. Stark will open in February.
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Old 10-27-2003, 01:52 PM
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PICTURE:

William Wilson Lewis III / The Press-Enterprise
"You can throw a rock in a (prison) yard and chances are you will hit someone who has special needs," said Phil Shimmin, program administrator at the Heman G. Stark Youth Correctional Facility in Chino. He said California is changing its attitude about how it treats mentally ill inmates.
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