Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Correcting the Correctioners

For my fourth and final blog post about my junior theme, I found an interesting article in the New York Times about physical abuse and mentally ill prisoners. The relevant news regarding this article is the Human Rights Watch report that has recently been released, which includes different incidents regarding the correctional staff at prisons. "In some cases, the force used has led to their death", according to the press release report for HRW. The force used by the prison guards include chemical sprays, electric weapons, and severely broken body parts. The study also found that the mistreatment of mentally ill prisoners occurs throughout the country and is increasing in more than 5,100 jails and prisons. Through my junior theme research, I found similar startling statistics and information about this problem, leading me to question why this is happening. Why is it becoming more and more "acceptable" to treat the mentally ill this way? Even if they are in prisoners, do they deserve to be treated terribly?

I can only imagine that it takes time to adjust to living in prison for non-mentally ill prisoners. For mentally ill prisoners, I assume that it's almost impossible. There are extensive and firm rules set by prison officers and guards that prisoners must follow. If they don't follow the rules, they should expect punishment, physical or not. But in most cases, usually mentally ill prisoners aren't doing harm to themselves, other prisoners, or guards; they are only trying to adjust to life imprisoned. Their behavior is usually a result of their mental illness, therefore unintentional. Some examples of this behavior found was using inappropriate language, refusing to come out of their cell, or urinating on the floor. I understand that these behaviors might be considered against the rules, but I don't think they are an excuse to physically harm these prisoners. These prisoners are struggling to survive in prison and live a different life than they are used to, making it difficult for them to always behave. I don't think it's fair to blame the prison guards either, however. They aren't trained in knowing how to deal with these prisoners and often don't have the facilities to help treat them.

The National Institute of Corrections, "a federal agency that provides funding and offers support programs to corrections agencies", claimed that mental health for prisoners was one of their highest priorities. They are planning on trying to find ways to create mental health treatment facilities in prisons so that this physical abuse will decrease. Hopefully they will find ways to stop the problem before it results in prison, but I don't think we will come to that decision anytime soon. I don't think there is an easy answer to the problem, and I don't know how much emphasis will be put on trying to solve it for the time being. I hope that we see a decrease in mentally ill prisoners, but I think this problem needs to move a step at a time. If the first step is ending the physical abuse, then I support it.

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