FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Death in a Cell: the Systemic Abuse of Mental Health Patients in Prison

38 year-old Terrill Thomas died of dehydration while being held in solitary confinement in a jail run by Trump Surrogate Sheriff David Clarke in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin in April 2016. An inquest began on April 24, 2017 during which prosecutors will explain the circumstances of what happened to jurors, who will issue an advisory verdict on any potential charges to be formally filed. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported, “in his opening statement, Assistant District Attorney Kurt Benkley said surveillance videos show three corrections officers cut off the water in Thomas’ cell – a disciplinary measure after Thomas flooded another cell – and never turned it back on. The same officers never documented the water cutoff or notified supervisors, leaving fellow corrections officers in the dark.” The water in Thomas’ cell was shut off for eight days, until he died. Thomas’ ability to vocalize his predicament in dying of thirst was hindered by the mental illness he suffers from, bipolar disorder. Like similar cases, those who were supervising Thomas in jail focused on punishing his behavior that stemmed from an untreated mental illness, instead of addressing the lack of treatment

“What policing does now, is it tries to figure out all the details of a crime so we can punish somebody. And in all that we know, in all of science, punishing people does not do anything to prevent crime. That’s why the death penalty doesn’t work. It doesn’t matter that you threaten to kill people, it doesn’t bring the homicide rate down. In fact, it actually increases it in the areas where you have the death penalty. So when you’re punishment focused, you’re not actually looking for solutions,” said Michael A. Wood Jr., a former Sergeant in the Baltimore Police Department, in an interview with me. Wood has been an outspoken activist in favor of police reform since he retired in 2014. He noted that the focus has been on Sheriff David Clarke over the Terrill Thomas incident, which though warranted, ignores the underlying problems associated with the case.”I would really hope that people in this kind of situation look at the death of Terrill Thomas and what Sheriff Clarke has done, and highlight the problem that you can’t just get rid of Sheriff Clarke and this is all fixed. The problem is what enables Clarke to do this and get away with it. If we constantly focus on these individual demons, we miss the entire picture of changing the system and preventing it from occurring again.”

Wood added that what causes cases like Terrill Thomas or another similar case of schizophrenic inmate in South Florida Darren Rainey, where prosecutors claimed in March 2017 that there was no wrongdoing found after Rainey was killed in a scalding hot shower after being locked in it by correctional officers, is that the systemic issues are overlooked in favor of focusing on punishing those in charge at the time. These incidents are not anomalies, but rather symptoms of an incarceration system predicated on punishment over treating the causative issue, in Thomas’ case, his mental illness.

“We are missing the idea that the prosecutors, the police department, and the department of justice are not separate things. These are all the same entity protecting itself,” he said. “Policing only goes after an individual when it can be put off on the individual and it doesn’t indict the system. So when you have an incident like Terrill Thomas’, where you have all this collusion of guards turning off water in cells, an apparent culture of guards treating criminals like this and an obvious disregard for history because this isn’t the first time of prisoners reporting problems. So they’ve been reporting problems for all this time and everything be denied, because these things are all the same system.”

Impunity is often afforded to either correctional or police officers who are caught doing something wrong, whether its a case like Terrill Thomas’, Darren Rainey, or police shootings like Walter Scott in South Carolina, because there are no checks and balances within the justice system to properly hold corruption and abuses accountable. “So they are going to continue to protect their system,” added Wood. “The check and balance that has to be in place is that citizens and regular community members have to have the control and say in all this, otherwise, of course you’re going to end up in this boat. These are people trying to protect their own careers, with their own missions, operating the system that enables them to do that.”

More articles by:

Michael Sainato’s writing has appeared in the Guardian, Miami Herald, Baltimore Sun, Denver Post, Buffalo News, the Hill, Alternet, and several other publications . Follow him on twitter: @MSainat1

August 20, 2018
Carl Boggs
The Road to Disaster?
James Munson
“Not With a Bomb, But a Whimper” … Then More Bombs.
Jonathan Cook
Corbyn’s Labour Party is Being Made to Fail –By Design
Robert Fisk
A US Trade War With Turkey Over a Pastor? Don’t Believe It
Howard Lisnoff
The Mass Media’s Outrage at Trump: Why the Surprise?
Faisal Khan
A British Muslim’s Perspective on the Burkha Debate
Andrew Kahn
Inhumanity Above the Clouds
Dan Glazebrook
Trump’s New Financial War on the Global South
George Wuerthner
Why the Gallatin Range Deserves Protection
Ted Rall
Is Trump a Brand-New Weird Existential Threat? No.
Sheldon Richman
For the Love of Reason
Susie Day
Why Pundits Scare Me
Dean Baker
Does France’s Economy Need to Be Renewed?
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Mighty Voice for Peace Has Gone Silent: Uri Avnery, 1923-2018
Weekend Edition
August 17, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Daniel Wolff
The Aretha Dialogue
Nick Pemberton
Donald Trump and the Rise of Patriotism 
Joseph Natoli
First Amendment Rights and the Court of Popular Opinion
Andrew Levine
Midterms 2018: What’s There to Hope For?
Robert Hunziker
Hothouse Earth
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Running Out of Fools
Ajamu Baraka
Opposing Bipartisan Warmongering is Defending Human Rights of the Poor and Working Class
Paul Street
Corporate Media: the Enemy of the People
David Macaray
Trump and the Sex Tape
CJ Hopkins
Where Have All the Nazis Gone?
Daniel Falcone
The Future of NATO: an Interview With Richard Falk
Cesar Chelala
The Historic Responsibility of the Catholic Church
Ron Jacobs
The Barbarism of US Immigration Policy
Kenneth Surin
In Shanghai
William Camacaro - Frederick B. Mills
The Military Option Against Venezuela in the “Year of the Americas”
Nancy Kurshan
The Whole World Was Watching: Chicago ’68, Revisited
Robert Fantina
Yemeni and Palestinian Children
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Orcas and Other-Than-Human Grief
Shoshana Fine – Thomas Lindemann
Migrants Deaths: European Democracies and the Right to Not Protect?
Paul Edwards
Totally Irrusianal
Thomas Knapp
Murphy’s Law: Big Tech Must Serve as Censorship Subcontractors
Mark Ashwill
More Demons Unleashed After Fulbright University Vietnam Official Drops Rhetorical Bombshells
Ralph Nader
Going Fundamental Eludes Congressional Progressives
Hans-Armin Ohlmann
My Longest Day: How World War II Ended for My Family
Matthew Funke
The Nordic Countries Aren’t Socialist
Daniel Warner
Tiger Woods, Donald Trump and Crime and Punishment
Dave Lindorff
Mainstream Media Hypocrisy on Display
Jeff Cohen
Democrats Gather in Chicago: Elite Party or Party of the People?
Victor Grossman
Stand Up With New Hope in Germany?
Christopher Brauchli
A Family Affair
Jill Richardson
Profiting From Poison
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail