Archive for March 14th, 2014

No Place to Die

by lizard

Jail is No place to die, and the Indy’s Jessica Mayrer does a great job scratching the surface of core systemic deficiencies that absolutely reach beyond the jail.

Driving that point home is Catherine O’Day, an amazing person I’ve had the pleasure of talking to a few times about this issue. She is a fierce advocate for both inmates in psychiatric crisis who cycle through county detention and the detention staff responsible for their safety. Here’s a bit from the article:

Missoula social worker Catherine O’Day says it’s disheartening to watch detention center inmates get sober and begin planning ways to tackle their addictions, only to watch them fall apart when they leave.

“I see them losing hope,” says O’Day, who, in addition to running a mental health program at the jail, teaches social work at the University of Montana.

Staying sober requires support, O’Day says. Offenders become pessimistic when they discover how little support exists for them. Columbia University found that in 2005, federal, state and local governments spent $74 billion on incarceration, court proceedings, probation and parole for substance-involved adult and juvenile offenders. That number dwarfs the $632 million spent on offender prevention and treatment.

Among the biggest problems, O’Day says, stems from the fact that Missoula has no alcohol detoxification facility. Detoxing can be deadly, as it was for Wasson. But the only place to go through a supervised withdrawal is at a hospital emergency room or in jail. And, as O’Day notes, “We’re not a detox facility. … Jail is not treatment.”


There is of course litigation involved with the four county jail deaths, which limits what Sheriff Ibsen can say, but he does manage to give us a peek into his Sheriff perspective:

In light of the challenges, Ibsen says he’d welcome more community services. “There should be better ways of dealing with them than putting them in jail,” he says, “because jail I don’t think is fixing them.”

Where you might expect a social worker to criticize, O’Day is doing what she can from inside. That’s an important perspective, and provides the conclusion to the article:

As for O’Day, she bristles when talking about allegations directed at Missoula County jailers. She says it’s unfair for detention center staffers to accept blame for an issue that’s rooted in policies and laws that extend far beyond their control.

“It’s really a systemic failure,” she says. “We can’t change the world out there from in here.”

And what happens out there? A 34 year old drifter gets killed by a train and maybe had some help dying.

There is so much I wish I could say about what is happening, but I don’t, because it wouldn’t be ethical. I wish other professionals felt the same way.

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