Class War, Mental Illness and Prison

by lizard

In America, if you are a DuPont heir, you can rape your 3 year old daughter and get no jail time:

A Delaware man convicted of raping his three-year-old daughter only faced probation after a state Superior Court judge ruled he “will not fare well” in prison.

In her decision, Judge Jan Jurden suggested Robert H. Richards IV would benefit more from treatment. Richards, who was charged with fourth-degree rape in 2009, is an unemployed heir living off his trust fund. The light sentence has only became public as the result of a subsequent lawsuit filed by his ex-wife, which charges that he penetrated his daughter with his fingers while masturbating, and subsequently assaulted his son as well.

Richards is the great grandson of du Pont family patriarch Irenee du Pont, a chemical baron.

Also in America, if you are a poor black woman without a home or child care, you will definitely get arrested and spend time in jail for multiple counts of felony child abuse for leaving your kids in a car during a job interview:

A mom in Arizona is now facing child abuse charges for allegedly leaving her two young children in a hot car while she interviewed for a job, reports CBS affiliate KPHO.

Shanesha Taylor, 35, mother of the 2-year-old and 6-month-old kids, was arrested on March 20. She now faces two felony counts of child abuse.

According to Scottsdale police, a witness heard a child crying inside a Dodge Durango that was parked in an office parking lot around 12:30 p.m. The witness informed authorities that the vehicle was parked directly in the sun. KPHO reports that the witness told police the car’s engine was off, the doors were closed and the windows were only slightly opened.

Police arrived on the scene and were able to get the children out of the vehicle. Officers said Taylor returned about 45 minutes after they were informed of the situation and told them that she did not have anyone to watch her kids while she went on the interview, according to the station.

“She was upset. This is a sad situation all around. She said she was homeless. She needed the job. Obviously not getting the job. So it’s just a sad situation,” said Scottsdale Police Sergeant Mark Clark.

I really can’t imagine a more obscene class-based juxtaposition than this.

While my visceral reaction to the piece of shit DuPont heir lowlife who the judge thought “will not fare well” in prison is to hope he will someday get what he deserves, I’m not sure extended solitary confinement in an American prison is a horror I would wish even on the most depraved members of our society.

Yesterday Democracy Now ran a piece on the awful abuses of solitary confinement and its torturous impact on the disproportionate amount of mentally ill inmates in our prison system.

In that same hour Democracy Now examined the police situation in Albuquerque, focusing on the lethal shooting of a homeless veteran.

Montana is not immune to the crisis of the US prison system. The ACLU and Disability Rights Montana have raised major concerns about how people with mental illness are being treated in Montana prisons. Here is a lengthy quote from the link:

The ACLU of Montana, on behalf of its client Disability Rights Montana, is challenging the treatment of prisoners with mental illness at Montana State Prison and the Montana State Hospital. A year-long investigation at those institutions revealed a pattern at Montana State Prison of withholding medication, misdiagnosing prisoners with a long history of mental illness, and punishing them for behavior caused by their mental illness. Prisoners with mental illness are routinely subjected to months or years of solitary confinement and “behavior modification plans” that deprive them of clothing, working toilets, bedding and proper food. This serves only to worsen their illness and cause needless suffering.

“In our investigation of the prison and its practices, we have uncovered shocking and inhumane treatment of people who are mentally ill,” said Bernadette Franks-Ongoy, executive director of Disability Rights Montana.

Constitutional violations and poor mental health practices at Montana State Prison addressed in our letter to the Department of Corrections and the Department of Public Health and Human Services include:

  • A troubling pattern of the prison psychiatrist meeting for just minutes with prisoners with mental illness before finding that they are “faking it,” in spite of significant histories of mental illness;
  • Refusing to provide prisoners with necessary psychiatric medications;
  • Routine imposition of solitary confinement and/or “behavior modification plans” depriving prisoners of clothing, bedding, human contact, a working toilet and proper food as punishment for behaviors caused by mental illness;
  • “Wellness checks” in solitary confinement that consist of a weekly knock at the cell door where any conversation can be overheard by guards and other prisoners;
  • Inadequate mental health staff and training;
  • and Providing just 12 mental health beds in a prison with more than 275 prisoners with mental illness.

In addition, people sentenced “Guilty But Mentally Ill,” and sent to the Montana State Hospital for treatment are routinely transferred to Montana State Prison because Montana State Hospital staff does not want to treat problem patients or they need beds for other patients. These very ill patients have no real opportunity to challenge these transfers from a hospital setting to the prison where mental health care is virtually nonexistent and they are punished for their mental illness.

“This is about a prison mental health system that is making prisoners sicker,” said Anna Conley, ACLU of Montana staff attorney. “What is happening at the Montana State Prison and the Montana State Hospital is not only illegal; it goes against common sense. We should be providing mental health care that helps these prisoners rather than treating them in ways that exacerbate their condition.”

It’s too bad it takes lawsuits to bring these abuses to the attention of the public. It’s also too bad Missoula wasted so much time and energy on ordinances (sponsored by the alleged progressive, Caitlin Copple) to ban sitting on sidewalks instead of examining more substantive fixes to the systemic failures that will continue without significant intervention.

Pointing fingers at jail staff and law enforcement ignores the many failures that occur before police involvement and incarceration. I’m actually hopeful that good people within law enforcement and the corrections system are invested in trying to improve how they react to people in crisis.

But it’s not just on them to make improvements. It’s on all of us.

  1. lizard19

    I hope people read this post and check out the Democracy Now clips. we’ve been rapid-fire posting here the last few days, so this one may get lost in the mix.

  2. evdebs

    There is a longer version of that shooting of the mentally ill camper in Albuquerque on the Internet. It’s clear they had too many officers deployed there, it was too confrontational, and that when the flash bang grenade was fired at the victim who was not in a position to harm anyone, that they began firing on him, even setting a police dog on him as he lay dying.

    I expect that the conduct will be covered up.

  3. Steve W

    Thanks for writing these stories Liz, people need to know what’s happening.

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