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Saturday, February 7, 2015

Guilty Of Mental Illness--Justice Watch #1

Rockingham Court House
"Justice Watch" is the first of what will be an occasional account of justice gone awry. I have posted frequent examples previously, but not with this label. Feel free to let me know of any cases you would like aired, with good documentation for accuracy, of course.

Janice (not her real name), is being held at our local jail for a probation violation, having been intoxicated and in possession of a firearm (not her own). Single and in her mid-thirties, she appeared in court yesterday to ask to be released on bond to live with her grandmother while awaiting trial and to get some much needed treatment for her mental illness.

"My mind is all messed up," she had told me at a recent jail visit, "and I've got to get some help. And being here in jail is terribly stressful for me. All most of the other women in my cell talk about is getting high or getting drunk. I don't need that. And I can't sleep."

Janice, diagnosed with bipolar disorder, major depression and generalized anxiety disorder. is on a cocktail of medications she's not sure are really right for her. "Sometime I think my meds are making me worse," she said.

Janice was initially found guilty of using illegal drugs and for being intoxicated in public. She has never committed any crime that make her a danger to anyone but herself, has never sold or given drugs to anyone else. She is in jail primarily because she has an addiction and is mentally ill.

Her recent use of a firearm was in an attempted suicide. She felt an extreme sense of despair, she told me, although she has only a vague memory of what actually happened on the day she tried to kill herself.

She appeared in court in handcuffs and shackles, wearing the obligatory and unsightly red and white striped jump suit. Aside from a condescending remark about her being "highly emotional" and engaging in "pressured speech", the judge treated her with respect and dignity.

Everyone, including the judge, agreed at yesterday's hearing that she was not a flight risk and would show up at her court hearing set for a month from now. But the attorney from the Commonwealth's Attorney's office insisted that more should be known about whether her aging grandmother, living in a one bedroom apartment, could provide the kind of supervision Janice needed, in spite of her attorney's assurance that another aunt was also willing to help and that her pastor and others from her church would do all they could to provide the support she needed until she was able to get into Arbor House, a local treatment center where she could get some much needed psychiatric care.

Yesterday's verdict puts her back into the most stressful environment imaginable, confined to a jail cell with other inmates who are likewise getting no treatment for their addictions or their emotional problems.

Our local jail is clearly not a therapeutic place for anyone, especially not someone who needs psychiatric help.
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