Archive for January, 2016

“Epidemic Ignored” is a yearlong Investigation into Oklahoma’s Mental Health System by Jaclyn Cosgrove

“Epidemic Ignored” is a yearlong investigation into Oklahoma’s mental health system by Jaclyn Cosgrove. This part examines the history of mental health treatment in Oklahoma.

Even before Oklahoma was a state, leaders grappled with how to provide care to residents with mental illnesses. By wagon, by horse, on foot, by train, thousands of people flooded into the Oklahoma Territory during the late 1800s. And with that deluge of people came a need for a mental health system.

At first, Oklahoma Territory leaders sent residents with mental illnesses away, by train to Illinois.

But in 1895, leaders decided that was too expensive — $17,000 over the previous two years just to transport the residents. It was one of the costliest expenses in the territory’s budget.

“I apprehend that aside from the savings in cost, it will be more desirable in every respect to have these unfortunates cared for near their friends and relatives and by citizens of the Territory,” Gov. William C. Renfrow wrote in his 1895 address to the Legislature.

Renfrow had decided it was time to bring these residents back to receive treatment in Norman at a private psychiatric hospital. That was the inception of Oklahoma’s mental health system.

Unknowingly, Renfrow had shared the same sentiment that eventually would change the nation’s mental health system: the idea that residents should receive treatment close to home.

If territory leaders had embraced the concept of treating Oklahomans in communities where they lived, the mental health system would look much different today. Instead, residents were warehoused in large psychiatric hospitals, and for decades, many communities lacked any available mental health care.

After those hospitals were closed, Oklahoma leaders claimed they would invest in community mental health care. That did not happen.

Instead, in present-day Oklahoma, a fractured, arguably underfunded mental health system is suffocating.

But in a state that hasn’t made a sustained, significant investment in its mental health system, the majority of low-income, uninsured Oklahomans with mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders who need help do not get it.

For decades, federal researchers and state officials have warned of the consequences of not making a long-term investment in mental health, and for decades, those warnings have been largely ignored.

Almost 80 years ago, the National Mental Hospital Survey Committee published a report that noted that Oklahoma would save money if it invested in its mental health system.

“Whatever the future may bring,” the report concluded, “Oklahoma cannot look on itself with pride until provision is made for adequate care of its mentally helpless citizens.”

That was in 1937.

This 1946 photo of Central State Hospital ran with the caption “This is Hope hall at Norman, central building where acutely ill mental patients are admitted for their first diagnosis and treatment.” / Oklahoman Archive

Today, Griffin Memorial Hospital in Norman serves as a short-term, psychiatric hospital, largely for low-income, uninsured residents suffering from mental health crises. It can hold up to 120 patients and is usually full, although patients are continually discharged quickly.

The hospital’s namesake, Dr. David W. Griffin, came to Oklahoma in 1899, fresh out of medical school in Virginia. The young psychiatrist from North Carolina was coming to work at a small, private psychiatric hospital, owned by the Oklahoma Sanitarium Co.

The hospital sat on a few acres of land, with some small wooden cottages and a store building that served as the administration building. There were 362 patients.

Early upon arrival, Griffin noticed that, on the stone gates of the hospital, it read, “For The Violent Insane.” He chiseled it off himself.

Griffin did not like the term insane, and he often stressed to the public that Oklahomans with mental illnesses and substance use disorders could find recovery — if given proper care. He forbid anyone in the hospital from using the word “crazy.”

The two most common mental illnesses at the hospital were schizophrenia and manic depression — now called bipolar disorder. Many of the early patients came to the hospital for alcohol abuse or venereal diseases that caused their mental health to decline.

In 1915, the state of Oklahoma bought the hospital from the private company. At this point, the hospital had more than 1,000 patients and 100 employees.

During the next several years, Griffin would discuss with anyone who would listen the conditions of the hospital and the dire need for more funding.

Griffin repeatedly asked for money to expand the hospital and hire enough staff to treat patients. He found some success — but only after a fire broke out at the hospital in 1918 and killed 40 patients. The hospital’s buildings were upgraded then, but even so, during the next 25 years, state hospitals would fall into disrepair.

Griffin started his job at a time when mental health advocacy groups did not widely exist.

“Like so many pioneers, he labored for years practically alone,” columnist Edith Johnson noted in The Daily Oklahoman in 1953.

Estelle Blair, a former assistant commissioner at the Oklahoma Department of Charities and Corrections, wrote to Griffin in March 1915 after moving to Oregon. Blair wrote that she was hopeful the Legislature would recognize Griffin for the hard work and success he saw at the hospital.

“However, from the meager accounts received of that August assembly, it seems that they have seen fit to interest themselves mostly in passing oil legislation,” Blair wrote.

Many of the mental health system’s struggles went unnoticed until 1946, when Mike Gorman, a journalist at The Daily Oklahoman, wrote a series of stories, highlighting shameful, tragic conditions at the hospitals.


“For decades, Oklahoma has largely ignored its mental health system, despite warnings”

Jaclyn Cosgrove


For decades, Oklahoma has largely ignored its mental health system, despite warnings 

On average, Oklahomans with mental illnesses and substance use disorders will die 35 years early, thanks in large part to a struggling mental health system. This examination of the history of mental health treatment in Oklahoma explains how it got to this Point.


How to Stop the Dangerous ‘Revolving Door’ of Jailing the Mentally IllMENTALLY ILL HUMANS ARE SICK – THEY NEED CARE – NOT ONLY BARS!

How to Stop the Dangerous 'Revolving Door' of Jailing the Mentally Ill

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Opinion & Analysis

How to Stop the Dangerous ‘Revolving Door’ of Jailing the Mentally Ill

  • By Stephanie H. Procell

    January 26, 2016 | 6:45 pm

    This article is part of VICE News’ collaboration with the American Justice Summit. Watch the livestream on VICE News on Friday, January 29.

    While confined in a jail, a prisoner must contend with a wide array of unknowns. Some have to do with getting out: When will I be released, when will I speak to a lawyer, when will I see a judge, how will my case be resolved, will I be sentenced to prison time? Others with life on the outside: What will happen to my family, my home, my job? And still others concern safety while inside: Will my property be stolen, will I be assaulted, am I safe if I go to sleep?

    For anyone, the stress is enormous. For a person with a mental illness, however, the stress can increase symptoms — depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts — and for a small minority of those with a mental illness, it can prompt a spiral into a state of mania or psychosis. Not only is the jail not a conducive environment to successfully treat people, but due to the severity of some individuals’ disorders, those who are mostly indigent and homeless are unable to advocate for themselves. As a result, they become lost in the system and languish within jail walls.

    The average stay at New York City’s Rikers Island jail is 42 days. Those diagnosed with a mental illness are incarcerated for an average of 215 days.

    During my 18 months as a mental health counselor practicum student at Rikers, I met several mentally ill people who had lingered at the jail for years, waiting to proceed to trial. Many frequently appeared confused and highly stressed. Others sat in the jail for months after they were deemed incompetent to stand trial, waiting for a bed at a psychiatric hospital. They were forced to live in a correctional setting and to be treated as any other inmate despite the fact they had not been found guilty of any crime and/or were found unfit to proceed within the legal system.

    At Rikers, a team of highly dedicated, well-trained mental health professionals provide the best care possible. This includes providing treatment in crowded dormitories huddled in a corner in an attempt to provide some confidentiality; sitting in a makeshift office trying to talk over the loud yelling of inmates and correctional officers just outside the door; or conducting group therapy in a room where those participating are shackled to the wall and floor for the clinician’s and other inmates’ safety. For the majority of those treated, the services provided are adequate to maintain stability. But for those unable to cope, their mental health deteriorates.

    This creates a rotating door, not between jail and the outside world, but between jail and the forensic psychiatric ward at Bellevue Hospital, where inmates are sent to be stabilized. Upon return to jail, they mentally unravel again, and the revolving door keeps spinning.

    Despite the fact that some mentally ill individuals have difficulty distinguishing between reality and delusions, and in some cases struggle to simply maintain basic hygiene, they are still expected to follow the rules and regulations of a jail. They are supervised and given orders by correctional officers who are not trained to handle the mentally ill.

    In many cases, when these inmates do not follow a directive, it creates hostile situations between the officer and inmates, leading to violence toward the inmates or the inmates acting out and assaulting officers or civilian personnel. A study in 2012 by the City of New York Board of Corrections indicated that at Rikers Island, people diagnosed with a serious mental illness commit 60 percent of serious assaults on staff and other inmates.

    In 2014, I was the victim of such an assault. While I worked on a specialized unit for the seriously mentally ill, a man who was displaying signs of mental health deterioration after being jailed was transferred to my unit to receive a higher level of care. For unknown reasons — although likely related to mental illness — he punched me in the face, breaking my jaw in three places and causing multiple facial fractures.

    After the assault, my assailant spent weeks at Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital receiving inpatient mental health treatment, but was then returned to Rikers before he was sentenced and transferred to state prison. I can only speculate that if he was placed in a psychiatric hospital and received intensive care initially instead of spending time in county jail, he would have not deteriorated to a point where he committed the assault.

    Significant changes need to be, and can be, implemented to assist in providing better treatment for those who suffer from serious mental illness. People who are seriously mentally ill, who are unable to cope within the jail setting, need to be placed in housing where effective treatment can be provided. For those who are indigent and without a support system, advocates must be appointed who can meet them at the courts to help explain the process, possibly reducing stress and mental health deterioration. Training, not only for correctional officers, but also for all personnel in the jail and prison systems that have contact with the mentally ill, needs to be conducted to increase understanding.

    These steps would increase the safety of those working with this population. Assaults like mine can be avoided.

    Stephanie H. Procell is a clinical psychology doctoral candidate at Fielding Graduate University who completed her clinical practicum at Rikers Island. Follow her on Twitter: @Procell

    Photo via Wikimedia Commons

    The darkest theme: CO Prisons Continue to Warehouse Mentally Ill in Solitary Confinement

    Death of mentally ill inmate locked in hot shower until his skin fell off ruled accidental

    Death of mentally ill inmate locked in hot shower until his skin fell off ruled accidental


    Darren Rainey mugshot (Miami- Dade Corrections)

    Death of mentally ill inmate locked in hot shower until his skin fell off ruled accidental

    TOM BOGGIONI 25 Jan 2016 at 14:01 ET

    “Obviously his life was of no value because he was a black, poor, mentally disabled, a Muslim prisoner,” Harold Hempstead, the inmate who heard his screams from a cell beneath a shower, told the Herald. “The decision shows that black lives don’t matter.”

    The death of a mentally ill Florida inmate who begged for his life as his skin was scalded from his body in a locked shower stall has been ruled accidental, according to reports.

    According to the Miami Herald, the death of Darren Rainey, 50, in 2012 was attributed to complications stemming from schizophrenia, heart disease and “confinement” in the shower where he was placed as punishment for defecating in his cell and then refusing…

    View original post 68 more words

    Death of mentally ill inmate locked in hot shower until his skin fell off ruled accidental

    Death of mentally ill inmate locked in hot shower until his skin fell off ruled accidental

    Atlanta-area police officer charged with felony murder for shooting Anthony Hill The black army veteran who struggled with mental health problems was walking naked and unarmed outside when fatally shot by Officer Robert Olsen in MarchThe black army veteran who struggled with mental health problems was walking naked and unarmed outside when fatally shot by Officer Robert Olsen in March


    Atlanta-area police officer charged with felony murder for shooting Anthony Hill

    The black army veteran who struggled with mental health problems was walking naked and unarmed outside when fatally shot by Officer Robert Olsen in March

    robert olsen anthony hill

    Police officer Robert Olsen was also charged with violating oath of office, aggravated assault and making a false statement. Photograph: Handout/Reuters

    View original post

    Canada’s sickest inmates are locked in its deadliest prisons


    May 1, 2014 10:48 am

    Updated: May 2, 2014 12:21 pm

    Canada’s sickest inmates are locked in its deadliest prisons

    Kinew James died alone in her cell, pushing a button to call for help.

    She died at Saskatoon Regional Psychiatric Centre, where more inmates have died in the past seven years than any other federal prison in Canada.

    James was never supposed to spend half her life behind bars.

    She was sentenced to six years for manslaughter at age 18. But that got extended repeatedly thanks to bad behaviour as she bounced from one institution to another. At 35, she was still behind bars, charged with assault, uttering threats, arson, mischief and obstruction of justice.

    “Even before she went in there, she was an outgoing person and spoke her mind – that’s the kind of person she was,” says her mother Grace Campbell.

    James struck out on her own early after a rough childhood, moving from place to place.

    “She was a runner,” her mom recalls. “I was the same way. But she didn’t know that part.”

    On the rare occasion their paths intersected, her mom recalls a skilled cook who stayed connected to her First Nations roots, sent flowers from wherever she ended up.

     Kinew JamesHD

    Kinew James


    Campbell remembers visiting her daughter at Kitchener’s Grand Valley Institution for Women. They sat across from each other, ate pop and chips.

    James had put on weight in the years she’d been behind bars. She was on pills her mother didn’t recognize.

    They spoke briefly on the phone after James was transferred to Saskatoon’s Regional Psychiatric Centre.

    “I don’t think she liked it there,” Campbell says, although her daughter was light on specifics. “She was the type of person [to tell] me not to worry.”

    ‘They should’ve listened to her call for help’

    Campbell isn’t sure what happened to her daughter that day in January last year, or why James, who is diabetic, needed urgent help as she repeatedly pressed the distress button inmates use to summon assistance. …