An exposé in the Los Angeles Times has brought renewed focus to something we lose sight of too often here in the United States: prisoners still have rights, and that includes the mentally-ill.
The newspaper notes that “three decades of federal litigation” has conclusively established “that psychiatric care in prison is a constitutional right” and yet it tells the story of a man suffering from schizophrenia who spent 46 hours with his arms and legs “shackled to a chair in the San Luis Obispo County jail.” The man died a short time after being released from the chair and then “dumped on the floor of a nearby cell.”
The case has shocked the local community, and led to “a record $5 million legal settlement” according to the newspaper. But the events that led to this tragedy are worth exploring because of the lessons they hold for the rest of the country, including us here in Oregon. It is essential to understand that the victim was being held at a county facility because of a state program designed to reduce prison overcrowding. The result of that program was to push many prisoners out of state facilities and into municipal and county ones. This is significant because state and local jails are rarely equipped to deal with long-term inmates who have mental health issues.