Half a life in solitary: How Colorado made a young man insane

Half a life in solitary: How Colorado made a young man insane


Half a Life in Solitary: How Colorado Made a Young Man Insane

By Andrew Cohen


Associated Press

The story of Sam Mandez is appalling on so many different levels it’s hard to know where to begin. Convicted for a murder no one has ever proven he committed, sentenced to life without parole at the age of 18 because the judge and jury had no other choice, confined for 16 years in solitary for petty offenses in prison, made severely mentally ill by prison policies and practices, left untreated in that condition year after year by state officials, Mandez personifies the self-defeating cruelty of America’s prisons today.

And yet Mandez is not alone in his predicament. All over the nation, in state prisons and federal penitentiaries, officials are failing or refusing to adequately diagnose and treat inmates who are or who are made mentally ill by their confinements. The dire conditions in which these men and women are held, the deliberate indifference with which they are treated, do not meet constitutional standards. And yet there are thousands like Mandez, symbols of one of the most shameful episodes in American legal history.

The Crime

On July 26, 1992, an elderly woman named Frida Winter was murdered in her home in Greeley, Colorado. The police recovered fingerprints from the scene and later found some of Winter’s things in a culvert near her home. But for years the investigation went nowhere in large part because it was flawed in nearly every way. Other fingerprints from Winter’s home were not recovered. Leads were not adequately pursued. Logical suspects were not properly questioned. At the time of Winter’s death, Sam Mandez was 14 years old.

Four years later, the police caught what they considered a break. Fingerprints from Winter’s home finally found a match in a police database—and the match was Sam Mandez, who had just turned 18. They brought him in for intense questioning. But Mandez had a strong alibi. He and his grandfather had painted part of Winter’s home in 1991, a year before her death. There was good reason for his prints to have been on the window that was broken on the night of Winter’s death. Mandez had been in trouble with the law before—but never for a violent crime.

There were no eyewitnesses. There was no confession. There was no evidence of any kind that Mandez had murdered Winter. But there was one other link between them. Among the items recovered from that culvert after Winter’s death was a matchbook from a business in Henderson, Nevada. The Mandez family had relatives there. The cops said this proved that Mandez had been inside Winter’s house on the night of her death: He had burglarized her home, and thus, under a dubious extension of Colorado law, he was necessarily guilty of first-degree murder….

Read more, please: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/11/half-a-life-in-solitary-how-colorado-made-a-young-man-insane/281306/

Video Shows Maine Prisoner with Mental Illness Brutally Subdued by Guards

Video Shows Maine Prisoner with Mental Illness Brutally Subdued by Guards


Video Shows Maine Prisoner with Mental Illness Brutally Subdued by Guards

spit-mask, cloud of pepper-sprayA graphic video (shown below) recently leaked to the public shows a team of corrections officers make liberal use of prison torture tactics on a man who was, at the time of the incident,  incarcerated at Maine Correctional Center and had been held in solitary confinement for two months. A still of the explicit footage, originally obtained by the Portland Press Herald, captures Captain Shawn Welch spraying pepper spray directly into the face of the restrained man as the team of guards use brutal force to thwart any efforts at resistance.

The man, Paul Schlosser, who suffers from mental illness, was at the time taking several medications to treat his bipolar disorder and depression. Allegedly leading up to the incident, which took place in June 2012, was Schlosser’s refusal to go to the prison medical unit to be treated for a self-inflicted injury on his arm. Next, in what is referred to as a “cell extraction,” corrections officers wearing protective gear removed Schlosser from his cell, putting him into a restraint chair. At first, Schlosser was compliant, but, as reported by the Press Herald:

[W]hen one of the officers pins back Schlosser’s head, as his arms are being put into the chair’s restraints, Schlosser starts to struggle. When he spits at one of the officers, Welch sprays him with pepper spray, also called OC spray.

Schlosser becomes compliant and complains about not being able to breathe. One officer puts a spit-mask on him, trapping the pepper spray on Schlosser’s face.

Welch tells him he must cooperate to avoid similar treatment. Schlosser is in distress for 24 minutes before he is allowed to wash his face.

Welch, who sprayed the OC without warning, held the canister about 18 inches away from his target’s face, despite the fact that this particular canister type has the potential to stop multiple people dead in the tracks from over six feet away. After the story broke, Welch was terminated but, following an appeal that took into consideration his service to the Maine Department of Corrections, he was reinstated. …

 

Read more here:

http://solitarywatch.com/2013/04/05/video-shows-maine-prisoner-with-mental-illness-brutally-subdued-by-guards/

New Report Criticizes Use of Solitary Confinement in New Mexico Prisons and Jails

New Report Criticizes Use of Solitary Confinement in New Mexico Prisons and Jails


New Report Criticizes Use of Solitary Confinement in New Mexico Prisons and Jails

Outdoor recreation area at prison in New Mexico; solitary confinementOutdoor recreation area at a New Mexico correctional facility

An important new report and accompanying press release issued by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (NMCLP) and the ACLU of New Mexico (ACLU-NM) finds that solitary confinement in New Mexico prisons and jails is both “overused” and understated.

The report further states that the use of isolation, as practiced by the New Mexico Corrections Department (NMCD), violates the human rights of those subjected to it by isolating people suffering from serious mental illness and permitting the use of prolonged segregation. Findings of the study are based on a year-long investigation into the use of solitary confinement in the state’s correctional facilities. According to the release:

Solitary confinement means detaining a prisoner in 23-hour-a-day lockdown in small cells, where the person is banned from most out-of-cell activities and social interaction. The investigation found that both state prisons and county jails hold hundreds people in solitary at any one time around the state. The average length of stay of solitary in the prisons is almost 3 years. In the jails, it can last for months, or even years at a time.

Inside the Box: The Real Costs of Solitary Confinement in New Mexico’s Prisons and Jails” states that New Mexico houses approximately 16 percent of its total prison population in some form of solitary confinement, also noting the substantial increase in the cost associated with holding a prisoner in solitary as opposed to that for a prisoner held in the general population. “While it costs more money to detain prisoners in isolation than in the general population, it does not improve public safety or reduce prison violence.” The report also elaborates on the detrimental effects inflicted on people subjected to the practice:

[I]mposing extreme isolation on prisoners, without allowing for social interaction, education and opportunities for rehabilitation, can have dire consequences. Countless studies have shown that otherwise mentally stable people can experience severely adverse effects from even short periods of enforced isolation. Symptoms can include social withdrawal, panic attacks, irrational anger, loss of impulse control, paranoia, severe depression, and hallucinations. The effect on children and those already suffering from mental illnesses can be particularly devastating.

Mentioned throughout the study was the challenge associated with obtaining clear information on New Mexico’s use of solitary confinement, a problem largely attributable to reporting by NMCD that “lacks adequate transparency at both the state and local level.” The release states:

“The amount of information we were able to gather is dwarfed by the amount of information we still lack,” said Steven Robert Allen, Director of Public Policy at the ACLU of New Mexico. “New Mexico desperately needs to implement uniform transparency requirements to fully reveal how and why solitary confinement is being used in our prisons and jails.”

Not surprisingly, the report further elaborates on the paucity of data available on the state’s use of segregation:

This research project illuminated just how difficult it is to acquire clear data on the use of solitary confinement in New Mexico. For example, it was impossible to determine with any degree of certainty either the percentage or raw numbers of prisoners held in solitary confinement in New Mexico jails because this data simply is not compiled in an accessible, uniform manner.

Solitary Watch reports on the obstacles encountered by journalists in reporting on solitary confinement in U.S. prisons here and here. Based on their findings, the NMCLP and ACLU-NM identify key areas in need of urgent reform, proposing that the NMCD implement the following measures (each of which are expanded upon in detail in the report):

• Increase transparency and oversight of the use of solitary confinement • Limit the length of solitary confinement to no more than 30 days • Mandate that all prisoners be provided with mental, physical and social stimulation • Ban the use of solitary confinement on the mentally ill • Ban the use of solitary confinement on children

NMCLP and the ACLU make a point to commend NMCD for its willingness to cooperate with their investigation, and for efforts at reform already underway:

NMCD is now looking at new ways to reduce the use of solitary confinement in its facilities. In June 2012, NMCD invited the Vera Institute of Justice (www.vera.org) to conduct a comprehensive assessment on its use of solitary confinement at state detention facilities. This process will hopefully lead to a sensible reduction in the use of solitary confinement in New Mexico prisons with corresponding taxpayer savings and an increase in prison and public safety.

“We got in the habit of making it to easy to lock down prisoners,” says Jerry Roark, NMCD Director of Adult Prisons. “Right now, we have way to many non-predatory prisoners in segregation. We need to change that, and we’re working on it.”

Reports Condemn Solitary Confinement in New York City´s Jails…

Reports Condemn Solitary Confinement in New York City´s Jails…


2600cfbfad1f68fc7449328b128e1d15Reports Condemn Solitary Confinement in New York City’s Jails, As Officials Weigh Its Future

November 6, 2013  By

rikers wireTwo recent reports provide a scathing picture of the how solitary confinement is employed as a routine disciplinary measure on Rikers Island and in other city jails. The reports are particularly critical of the use of extreme isolation and deprivation on individuals with psychological disabilities, including mentally ill teenagers.

The two reports were prepared for the Board of Correction (BOC), which functions as the oversight agency for the New York City jail system, ensuring that all city correctional facilities comply with minimum regulations of care. In recent months, under pressure from local activists, the BOC has been reconsidering the liberal use of solitary confinement in the city’s jails, and conducting fact-finding on the subject.

The first of two reports commissioned by the BOC was released in September 2013. Dr. James Gilligan and Dr. Bandy Lee authored the report, addressing the use of solitary confinement in the city’s jails.  This past June, Dr. Gilligan and Dr. Lee were asked to assess whether the city’s jails were in compliance with the current Mental Health Minimum Standards set forth by the Board of Correction.

On Rikers Island, which houses more than 10,000 of the 13,000 women, men and children in the city’s jails, 1 in every 10 people is in isolated confinement at any time.  Many are placed there for nonviolent offenses at the discretion of corrections officers.  This distinguishes New York as a city with one of the highest rates of prison isolation in the country–about double the national average.

The report’s findings are a resounding criticism of the current use of punitive segregation, and point both to violations of the Mental Health Minimum Standards as well as to practices within the jail system that are harmful to those who suffer from mental illness. The report’s authors point to snapshot data in which the number of people with mental illness in solitary confinement is almost double the number of those with mental illness in the jail population generally. The authors conclude that mentally ill people in the jail system are being disproportionately placed in solitary confinement.

The report also claims that the nation’s prisons and jails have become “de facto mental hospitals,” pointing to the fact that roughly 95% of people with mental illness who are currently institutionalized are in correctional facilities, while only 5% are in mental hospitals.

The Mental Health Minimum Standards mandate that mental healthcare be provided in a setting that is conducive to care and treatment. The report contends that prolonged use of solitary confinement for mentally ill people violates these Standards, because it has been used punitively, to create a stressful environment and to remove social contact, rather than to provide therapeutic services.

Moreover, the report holds that the Standards should be amended to emphasize that those with mental illness should not be held in segregation.  As the report states, “The goal of mental health treatment (and also of correctional practice) should be to do everything possible to foster, enhance and encourage the inmates’ ability to…behave in constructive and non-violent ways after they have returned to the community from jail.”

The city responded to the report with a point-by-point rejection of its findings, claiming that the principal conclusions drawn by Drs. Gilligan and Lee were based on an erroneous legal interpretation of the Mental Health Minimum Standards and that the report’s conclusions and further recommendations were unsupported by sufficient evidence. This response was put forth by a multiple agencies, including the Office of the Mayor, the Department of Corrections and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Drs. Gilligan and Lee responded in turn, claiming that a strictly legal interpretation ignored the changing conditions of the current prison system as well as a misunderstanding of human psychology and behavior.  In order to reach a true understanding of the harm caused by punitive segregation, the authors say, we need to take into account the psychological effects of isolation, as well as the recent influx of people with mental illness into our prisons and jails.

One week after Drs. Gilligan and Lee published their report, the BOC voted unanimously to begin rulemaking to limit the use of solitary confinement in New York City.

These events follow a meeting held in June, in which the Board of Correction voted against limiting solitary confinement in the city’s jails, rejecting a petition put forth by the grassroots group known as the Jails Action Committee (JAC). The petition, if it had been accepted, would have limited solitary confinement as a last resort punishment for violent behavior only, and banned it entirely for children, young adults, and those with mental and physical disabilities.

BOC member Dr. Robert Cohen, a Manhattan physician and expert on prison health and mental health care, vocally supported JAC’s petition. At this June meeting, he called the use of solitary “dangerous,” especially for people with mental illness and adolescents, who are confined in punitive segregation at particularly high rates.  “During the past three years,” he pointed out, ”the percentage of prisoners languishing in solitary confinement has increased dramatically, without benefit in terms of decreased violence or increased safety on Rikers Island,” either for corrections officers or the prisoners themselves.

Dr. Cohen’s statement rings especially true after the release of the most recent BOC report in October, one month after the first report was published. Providing new information about the suffering of mentally ill youth placed in solitary confinement, the report describes the experiences of three adolescent boys at Rikers Island, each held in punitive segregation for more than 200 days, each suffering from mental illness. Youth and adolescents are among the most vulnerable populations in New York’s jail system; the report makes clear, however, that segregating mentally ill youth as a form of punishment is both negligent and dangerous.  The city has yet to respond to this latest criticism of solitary confinement.

The consequences of time spent in solitary confinement are lengthy and harmful, Cohen and other experts say; they include negative effects on mental health, including severe depression, anxiety, hallucinations, paranoia, insomnia, and panic attacks. Furthermore, studies have shown that common patterns of depression, anxiety, anger, and suicidal thoughts often leave individuals more prone to unstable and violent behavior, which can in turn lead to higher rates of recidivism.

Thank You to:  http://solitarywatch.com/2013/11/06/reports-condemn-abuse-solitary-confinement-new-york-citys-jails-officials-weigh-future/

50 Years After the Community Mental Health Act, the Best Reporting on Mental Health Care Today

50 Years After the Community Mental Health Act, the Best Reporting on Mental Health Care Today


50 Years After the Community Mental Health Act, the Best Reporting on Mental Health Care Today

How far have we come? Journalists take a hard look at our nation’s system of caring for the mentally ill.

President John F. Kennedy signs the Community Mental Health Act into law on Oct. 31, 1963. (Bill Allen/AP Photo)

    by Christie Thompson ProPublica,  Nov. 5, 2013, 10:57 a.m.

Fifty years ago last week, President John F. Kennedy signed the Community Mental Health Act. The law signaled a shift in thinking about how we care for the mentally ill: instead of confining them into institutions, the act was supposed to create community mental health centers to provide support.

But studies on the prevalence of mental illness among inmates [1] and the homeless [2] (PDF) show many patients are ending up on the street or in jail, instead of served by the treatment centers envisioned in the law. The homes that do exist are often subject to loose laws and regulations, leaving already fragile patients vulnerable to further abuse and neglect.

How far have we come? Here are some important reads on the state of mental health care today. Additions? Tweet them with the hashtag #MuckReads, or leave them in the comments below.

Milwaukee County mental health system traps patients in cycle of emergency care [3], Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 2013

In Wisconsin, psychiatric patients are often put through a revolving door of treatment: Experience a breakdown. Get arrested and brought to the emergency ward. Be released just a few days later. Repeat. Overall, “one of every three persons treated at the [psychiatric] emergency room returns within 90 days.”

Schizophrenic. Killer. My Cousin. [4], Mother Jones, May 2013

When a parent is faced with an ill, potentially violent child, where can they turn? Journalist Mac McClelland details how community outreach in the 1970s and 1980s allowed her aunt to stay “independent until the very end.” Thirty-four years and billions of dollars in mental health cutbacks [5] later, her cousin’s battle with schizophrenia came to a much more tragic conclusion.

Nevada buses hundreds of mentally ill patients to cities around country [6], Sacramento Bee, April 2013

Psychiatric patient James Flavy Coy Brown got off a bus in Sacramento [7] with no money, no medication, and no idea why he was there. He’d been sent to the California capital from a hospital in Las Vegas, who had regularly been discharging patients and busing them across the country. Patients are only supposed to be sent to other states when there’s a clear plan for their care. But stories like Brown’s show how many patients fall through the cracks….

PLEASE; READ WHOLE ARTICLE HERE: http://www.propublica.org/article/50-years-after-the-community-health-act-the-best-reporting-on-mental-health?utm_source=et&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=dailynewsletter

AlterNet: Is New York Lying in Diagnoses So it Can Lock Mentally Ill Inmates in Solitary Confinement?

AlterNet: Is New York Lying in Diagnoses So it Can Lock Mentally Ill Inmates in Solitary Confinement?


Published on Alternet (http://www.alternet.org)
Home > Is New York Lying in Diagnoses So It Can Lock Mentally Ill Inmates in Solitary Confinement?

ProPublica [1]             /               By Christie Thompson [2]


Is New York Lying in Diagnoses So It Can Lock Mentally Ill Inmates in Solitary Confinement?

          

August 16, 2013  |

  When Amir Hall entered New York state prison for a parole violation in November 2009, he came with a long list of psychological problems. Hall arrived at the prison from a state psychiatric hospital, after he had tried to suffocate himself. Hospital staff diagnosed Hall with serious depression.

In Mid-State prison, Hall was in and out of solitary confinement for fighting with other inmates and other rule violations. After throwing Kool-Aid at an officer, he was sentenced to seven months in solitary at Great Meadow Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in upstate New York.

Hall did not want to be moved. When his mother and grandmother visited him that spring, Hall warned them: If he didn’t get out of prison soon, he would not be coming home.

“There was somebody who looked defeated, like the life was beat out of him,” said his sister Shaleah Hall. “I don’t know who that person was. The person in that video was not my brother.”

Multiple [3] studies [4] have shown that isolation can damage inmates’ minds, particularly those already struggling with mental illness. In recent years, New York state has led the way in implementing policies to protect troubled inmates from the trauma of solitary confinement [5].

A 2007 federal court order [6] required New York to provide inmates with “serious” mental illness more treatment while in solitary. And a follow-up law [7] enacted in 2011 all but bans such inmates from being put there altogether.

But something odd has happened: Since protections were first added, the number of inmates diagnosed with severe mental illness has dropped. The number of inmates diagnosed with “serious” mental illness is down 33 percent since 2007, compared to a 13 percent decrease in the state’s prison population.

A larger portion of inmates flagged for mental issues are now being given more modest diagnoses, such as adjustment disorders or minor mood disorders.

The New York Office of Mental Health says the decrease reflects improvements to the screening process. Efforts to base diagnoses on firmer evidence “has resulted in somewhat fewer, but better-substantiated diagnoses” of serious mental illness, said a spokesman for the office in an emailed statement.

In Hall’s case, prison mental health staff never labeled his problems as “serious.”

Instead, they repeatedly downgraded his diagnosis. After three months in solitary — during which Hall was put on suicide watch twice — they changed his status to a level for inmates who have experienced “at least six months of psychiatric stability.”

Two weeks after his diagnosis was downgraded, and two days after he was transferred to solitary at Great Meadow, guards found Hall in his cell hanging from a bed sheet.

As part of a report issued on every inmate death, the Corrections Department’s Medical Review Board found no documented reason behind the change in Hall’s diagnosis [8].

A 2011 Poughkeepsie Journal investigation detailed a spike in inmate suicides [9] in 2010, which disproportionately took place in solitary confinement. Death reports from the state’s oversight committee obtained by the Journal [10] suggest several inmates who have committed suicide in recent years may have been under-diagnosed.

Hall’s family is suing the Corrections Department and the Office of Mental Health, among other defendants, for failing to treat his mental illness and instead locking him in solitary.

New York State’s Office of Mental Health, which is in charge of inmates’ mental health care, declined to comment on Hall’s case, citing the litigation.

Amir Hall (or Mir, as his family calls him) was originally arrested in October 2007, for the unarmed robbery of a Verizon store. He made off with $86. Released on parole, he lived with his sister Shaleah Hall and her two sons while working at a local Holiday Inn and studying to become a nurse.

“Sometimes I sit there thinking that he’s going to walk through the door and make everybody laugh,” said Shaleah, who has “In Loving Memory of Amir” tattooed in a curling ribbon on her right bicep. “He was the life of the party. If you met him, you would just love him.”

But Hall’s mood could shift in an instant, Shaleah said. He was often paranoid, worried that people judged him for being gay. He would snap, then apologize repeatedly for it afterward.

“You had to walk on eggshells sometimes, because you never knew if he was going to be happy or sad that day,” Shaleah said. “It was like this ever since we were kids.”

One of those outbursts landed Hall back in prison for violating parole, after he got into a fight with Shaleah’s friend.

Knowing her brother’s history of mental illness, Shaleah said solitary confinement must have “drove him crazy.”

“I feel like they treated him like an animal,” she said. “They just locked him away and forgot about him.”

The lawsuit over Hall’s death claims mental health and prison staff ignored recommendations that he receive more treatment, and that staff members failed to properly assess his mental health when he arrived at Great Meadow.

In a response [11] to the state oversight committee’s assessment of Hall’s case, the Office of Mental Health said they were retraining staff on screening for suicide risk. The Corrections Department said they were working to improve communication when inmates are transferred to new facilities.

Sarah Kerr, a staff attorney with the Prisoners’ Rights Project of the Legal Aid Society, noted Hall’s case during a Senate hearing on solitary confinement [12]. “The repeated punitive responses to [Hall] as he psychiatrically deteriorated in solitary confinement exemplify the importance of vigilance and monitoring, and the need for diversion from harmful solitary confinement,” she wrote.

Kerr points out that significant improvements have been made for inmates diagnosed above the “serious” mental illness line. The new mental health units provide at least four hours of out-of-cell treatment a day, and speed up an inmate’s return to the general population.

“I don’t think those improvements should be taken lightly,” said Kerr. “In terms of mental health policy, we’re way ahead of the country.”

But when it comes to solitary confinement, “New York is among the worst states,” said Taylor Pendergrass of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which is suing the state [13] over its use of isolation. “Even if you’re totally sane and you go into solitary, it’s incredibly hard to deal with the psychological toll of that,” he said.

Solitary confinement is used in jails and prisons across the country, though there’s no reliable data to compare its prevalence among states. Experts say New York stands out for sentencing inmates to solitary for infractions as minor as having too many postage stamps or a messy cell. A report from the NYCLU [14] found that five out of six solitary sentences in New York prisons were for “non-violent misbehavior.”

Under the state’s new law, all inmates housed in solitary — known in New York as Special Housing Units, or SHU — receive regular check-ins from mental health staff. The screenings are meant to catch inmates not originally diagnosed with a disorder who develop problems in isolation.

But Jennifer Parish, director of criminal justice advocacy at the Urban Justice Center, said she thinks many staff members still view inmates’ symptoms as attempts to avoid punishment. “If you don’t believe that being in solitary can have detrimental effects to a person’s mental health, you’re going to see someone who just says, ‘I want to get out of here,'” she said.

Beck has seen the same skepticism in conversations with some prison staff. “There’s a bias in the system that looks at the incarcerated population as anti-social, malingerers, manipulators,” Beck said. “I hear that all the time.”

When inmates ask to see mental health staff, “we have found far too often that it appears security staff really resent people asking for these interventions,” Beck said. “We have in a few facilities what I think are credible stories of individuals being beaten up when they want to go to the crisis center.”

As Sarah Kerr sees it, “if mental health staff are overly concerned that people are feigning illness, that they’re conning their way out of special housing … that will lead to tragedies.”

The Corrections Department says any unusual behavior by inmates or attempts to hurt themselves are reported to mental health staff. A spokesman for the Office of Mental Health said “inmates reporting psychiatric symptoms are taken seriously and assessed carefully.”

Donna Currao said prison staff ignored her and her husband, Tommy Currao, when he attempted suicide at least 10 times over the course of 10 months in solitary confinement. According to his wife, Currao had been sent to solitary after testing positive for heroin.

Currao’s first suicide attempt in solitary was in July 2012, when he tried to overdose on heroin. That October, guards found him attempting to hang himself in his cell. While on suicide watch after he tried again to overdose, Currao broke open his hearing aid and used the metal inside to cut his wrists. (He received a bill of $500 for “destruction of state property,” Donna said.)

Both the Corrections Department and the Office of Mental Health declined to comment on Currao’s case.

According to the Corrections Department, an inmate can be returned to solitary confinement after being on suicide watch if they’re cleared by the Office of Mental Health. In 2011, 14 percent of the 8,242 inmates released from New York’s mental health crisis units were sent to solitary confinement.

After just three weeks in isolation, Donna noticed a dramatic change in her husband. He “was withdrawn, all he would do is apologize,” Donna said. He was no longer laughing with her, playing cards or chatting with other inmates. She watched him drop from 240 pounds to 160.

Currao stopped writing the almost daily letters he’d sent for 13 years. When Donna persuaded him to start again, as a way to escape, he talked of an overwhelming sadness.

Donna says she repeatedly called the prison. She faxed them copies of Currao’s suicidal letters. But he remained in isolation.

“I don’t know if they don’t want to spend the money, or think it’s a joke,” she said. “They still thought he wanted out of solitary. He wanted out of the picture is what he wanted.”

A survey [15] by the state’s independent oversight committee found many family members who said prison officials didn’t listen to concerns about inmates’ psychological wellbeing. None of the mental health files reviewed by the oversight committee contained information from family members about a prisoner’s psychiatric history.

The Office of Mental Health says it’s working on creating new procedures to “insure that the call is responded to promptly and in a manner that addresses the family member’s concern as best as possible.”

Prisoner rights advocates are also working on a new legislative proposal to ensure that mentally ill inmates get the treatment they need. A coalition of groups [16] is drafting a new bill, which would expand protections from solitary for inmates with mental illness, and put a limit on solitary confinement sentences for any prisoner, whether or not they’re diagnosed with a disorder.

“Even though there’s a law that says you can’t do this for people with serious mental illness, it hasn’t stopped [Corrections] from using solitary,” said Parish. “I think they just replaced it with lower-level tickets instead of some of the most serious ones.”

In May, Donna’s persistence in trying to get her husband treatment finally saw results. Currao met with a psychologist, and was diagnosed with “serious” anti-social personality disorder and dysthymic disorder. He was moved out of solitary confinement and into one of the 170 Residential Mental Health Treatment beds created under the recent law.

Currao “seems to be 1,000 times better” since entering treatment, Donna said. He talks about wanting to become a counselor when he’s released.

But Donna wonders why it took so many suicide attempts and nearly a year of pressure to get her husband a proper diagnosis and the treatment he was legally owed. “They are not enforcing this law,” she said. “Why do we have to fight so hard to get them evaluated?”

Hall’s family is left with the same questions as they search for answers about his death. “How many more people have to die?” Shaleah asked. “They need help. Locking them away is hurting them more.”