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It’s a crime to house the mentally ill this way
The crowded Los Angeles County jail holds thousands who are mentally ill and accused of a crime. Most have been there before.
5:00 AM PDT, July 17, 2013
If you routinely hear voices, hallucinate, sink into suicidal depression or suffer inescapable torment, Los Angeles has a place for you.
The county jail.
On Monday, the jail held 3,200 inmates diagnosed with a mental illness and accused of a crime. Most have not been to trial, many have waited months for their day in court, and the majority have cycled through at least once before. There’s no longer enough room to house them all in segregated areas, so 1,000 mentally ill men and 300 women are housed with the general population.
Sheriff Lee Baca has said for decades that he runs the nation’s largest mental hospital, but we’ve heard it so often that the shock has worn off. We know there’s something inexcusably wrong with the system — something backward and inhumane. But we shrug and move on, and the failure of public policy persists, at great public expense, while Los Angeles County officials order up another round of studies.
On the seventh floor of the Twin Towers, some of the most severely ill men stood in the locked single cells of a dorm-style bloc Monday, staring into space, banging on walls or howling. On the fifth floor, cells were filled to capacity and bunks were squeezed into the common dining area to handle the overflow. Some of the bunks are two beds high, some three. Privacy and quiet do not exist for inmates or their jailhouse therapists.
If you’re trying to figure out what makes for a desirable therapeutic environment, said Sara Hough, who runs the jail clinical program for the county Mental Health Department and takes pride in trying to deliver desperately needed care, “this ain’t it.”
County sheriff’s Sgt. Julie Geary pointed out an inmate who thinks that he’s Abraham Lincoln and that he’s possessed by a spirit. Nearby was a man who’s been in and out of jail so many times, Geary is on a first-name basis with him. “You’re back,” she recalled telling Herman. And she knows which inmates can be expected to complain that poisonous gas is being piped into their cells….
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