||Susan M. Recinella, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and
Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed|
What You Didn’t Do For the Least, You Didn’t Do For Me
By: Dale Recinella
Based on the State’s own statistics published a few years ago, at least one out of every nine Florida state prisoners suffers from medically diagnosed severe mental illness.
That translates to about 8,000 severely mentally ill state prisoners in Florida. This problem spans the entire country.
According to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill,
[T]he criminalization of people with mental illness continues…. at least seven per cent of inmates in local and city jails, and 14 per cent of inmates in state prisons suffer from schizophrenia, manic-depressive illness, or major depression.
[According to] the United States Department of Justice … 16 percent of all inmates in state and federal jails and prisons have schizophrenia, manic-depressive illness (bipolar disorder), major depression, or another severe mental illness…. on any given day, there are roughly 283,000 persons with severe mental illnesses incarcerated in federal and state jails and prisons.
This didn’t happen overnight. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, our country was swept by an enlightened and benign view that the mentally ill should be dispatched from mental hospitals and sent home to their communities. There they would be supported by community mental health centers funded by the money saved from downsizing mental hospitals.
To make a long story short, the easiest part of the plan was completed. The numbers of mental hospital beds were drastically reduced. The mentally ill were dumped back into their home communities. That is about as far as we progressed.
By the time we should have been funding the community mental health centers, the Arab Oil Embargo and its legacy had pushed the prime rate into the stratosphere. The economy was on life support. Iran had seized our embassy. The USSR was invading Afghanistan. And the cold war was cranking incredibly close to becoming hot. Money was tight. The deinstitutionalized mentally ill poured into our city centers, surviving day-to-day on the streets and in the alleys of the most violent neighborhoods in the country. Instead of appropriating more money for community mental health, we let the communities and the mental hospitals fight over an impossibly small pot of available funds. That is still our situation to this day.
The Department of Corrections is struggling valiantly to deal with the Florida portion of this problem, treatment of thousands of state prisoners who are severely mentally ill. That is no small battle based on the meager funds appropriated for such an unpopular concept. The mood of Florida taxpayers is millions for punishment, not a penny for treatment.
Florida State Prison has become a beachhead in Florida’s struggle to treat the sickest of our incarcerated mentally ill. Counseling rooms have been installed in the wings. Psychiatrists, psychologists and psychiatric techs comb through the halls in street clothes, a shocking invasion of color where just a year ago one saw only a sea of brown uniforms against beige floors and walls.
The officers also struggle to adapt to mechanisms of behavior control as opposed to punishment. Weeks of training in psychiatric treatment skills would be of great benefit to them. Unfortunately, we the taxpayers consider such training and preparation to be a waste of precious resources that could be better spent on ourselves. We refuse to pay for in-depth skills development in understanding and coping with antisocial personalities, psychotic behavior or bi-polar and borderline disorders. Instead, we tell the poor officers, “Just handle it!” And we promise to crucify them if they make a mistake.
If we were a secular, atheist society, this whole state of affairs would be predictable. Yet, how do we explain such a mess in a country, in a state, where the overwhelming majority of people claim to follow the God that predicted a last judgment with the words, “What you refused to do for the least of your brothers, you refused to do for Me”?
Does anyone really believe in the last judgment anymore?
First published: The Florida Catholic, January 24, 2003
© 2003 Dale S. Recinella & The Florida Catholic.
Used with permission. All rights reserved.
No further reproduction or republication without prior written permission.
I Was In Prison
News & Updates
This ezine is targeted for people involved in prison ministry or in stopping the death penalty, we think you will find helpful information for people who are undecided about capital punishment, for those who have never experienced the inside of a jail or prison, and for those who feel called to participate through prayer and adoration.
Your name and information will never be used or sha#3333FF with anyone. We promise!
Dale S. Recinella
, Catholic Lay Chaplain, Florida Death Row and Solitary Confinement
Susan M. Recinella
, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and
Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed