12 May 2016

"I Hope You Get the Help You Need"

by Eve Fisher

Ripped from the headlines of South Dakota:

State Receives $300,000 for Mental Health Task Force.

Investigation continues into 50 year old woman's death (35 year old boyfriend claims he woke up and there she was, dead... Yes, there were a few drugs lying around...).

Man accused of killing state trooper wants case separated (he's planning on blaming the other defendants for everything).

Fourth of July State Park Camping Reservations open soon (we have some GREAT camping sites; really GREAT).

Report shows an elderly woman found in a freezer died of natural causes  (now why her son brought her to South Dakota in a freezer, that may not be so natural, but he died in February, so we may never have an answer to THAT mystery).

Officials tackling gopher problem at state fairgrounds (no joke, folks).

Entertainment Lineup  announced for RibFest 2016 (June 2-5th, W. H. Lyons Fairground)  .

And a story about someone sentenced to prison for various appalling acts committed under the influence of meth and God only knows what other substances he had in his system.  At his sentencing, someone said, "we hope you will get the help you need while in prison and can turn your life around once you [eventually] get out."

This last story connects with the first one, about the mental health task force:

"A grant of about $300,000 will bolster the work of a task force proposed by the state Supreme Court's chief justice to study issues surrounding mentally ill people entering the criminal justice system.  Officials on Wednesday announced the grant from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust to the state Department of Health.  The state is providing more than $100,000 through in-kind contributions to support the work.

Homer Simpson

"Gov. Dennis Daugaard says the group is set to analyze why and how individuals with mental illness become involved with the justice system.  SD Chief Justice David Gilbertson says the criminal justice system often isn't the most appropriate and cost-effective response."  Mental Health Task Force

To which my answer is "d'oh".  

I've talked before about how our society has criminalized addiction, mental illness, and mental disability.  Some of it was purely political:  
"One of Richard Nixon's top advisers and a key figure in the Watergate scandal said the war on drugs was created as a political tool to fight blacks and hippies, according to a 22-year-old interview recently published in Harper's Magazine. 
"The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people," former Nixon domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman told Harper's writer Dan Baum for the April cover story published Tuesday. 
"You understand what I'm saying? We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities," Ehrlichman said. "We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did."  John Ehrlichman interview, CNN

Other reasons were the natural fallout resulting from the scandal of "snake-pit" mental hospitals about the same time that people figured out that mental health institutions were expensive.  In other words, the search for social reform AND economic reform:
Snakepit1948 62862n.jpg
"Perhaps what is most interesting about the change in policies of involuntary commitment is the coalition that helped bring it about: a combination of "law and order" conservatives, economic conservatives, and liberal groups that sought reform in the provision of mental health services. But the policy shift had hardly anything at all to do with the mentally ill or the practitioners who treated them. It was designed to lower taxes and shift responsibility away from the federal government. Ironically then, the need for reform perceived by those involved and concerned with the mentally ill (practitioners and families) was co-opted by the interests of capital."  Reagan and the Commitment of the Mentally Ill

In any case the result is that today, instead of going to hospitals, most of the mentally ill, mentally disabled, and the chronically addicted go to jail. (Explains why we have the largest prison population in the world, doesn't it?) According to NIH, "prisons have effectively become the new mental illness asylums". NIH Report on Prisoners and Mental Illness

And, according to the Atlantic: "55 percent of male inmates in state prisons are mentally ill, but 73 percent of female inmates are. Meanwhile, the think-tank writes, "only one in three state prisoners and one in six jail inmates who suffer from mental-health problems report having received mental-health treatment since admission." The Atlantic.

So when someone says "I hope s/he finally gets the help s/he needs" the simple answer is no, most of the time, s/he won't. They will be warehoused. They may or may not be put on psychotropic drugs which may or may not be suitable for their mental illness. If they are mentally disabled, they may be put on tranquilizers, just to calm them down. [This turns them into zombies.]  If they are addicted, they may go through a six week addiction program. Or not. Depends on if there's any money. And, when they've done their time - and most prisoners will eventually do their time - they will come out, in pretty much the same shape they went in, if not worse.

You can't fix people for free.  You can't put mentally ill people into the less-than-nurturing environment of prison and expect them to come out magically all better.  But at least there's a start. I'll take any mental health task force I can get.  Anything is better than nothing, and nothing has been the rule for a very long time.

Okay, now, a little question for all the mystery writers, the woman in the freezer - why do YOU think her son brought her to South Dakota?


  1. Another good- if depressing ! - column.
    I think there's a story in the case of the woman in the freezer and I wouldn't be surprised if it turns into print!

  2. I've been mulling away on the woman in the freezer (since I certainly can't solve the mental health/prison problem), and I'm willing to bet it was a planned social security fraud. Then again, maybe he was really attached to his mother...

  3. Another excellent post! Once again I find myself wishing I could figure out a way to get wider circulation for it than the small circle of people I can share it with. Superb work in every way.

  4. Excellent post. I wonder how much of this problem is related to private prisons? I had a friend who's son went to a private prison and she had to supply his linens, towels, everything -- like camp. Just not as much fun. I wonder about the people whose mothers don't help? Do they sleep on naked beds and drip dry? Not trying to make light of this -- I really wonder about these things. I know back in the "good old days," the mentally ill (or maybe not so mentally ill) could be put in mental hospitals by family against their will and left there to rot. When Kennedy made the new laws regarding institutionalization, I'm sure it was for this reason (re: his sister). Unfortunately, this led to all other sorts of problems. If you find an answer -- to either the mental health problem or the reason the guy took his dead mom to SD -- please let me know.

  5. About the man who transported his dead mother to South Dakota in a freezer, in addition to the Social Security fraud Eve mentions, maybe he couldn't afford to bury her. ?

  6. Susan, even in state prisons, prisoners have to somehow pay for everything above the bare minimum (i.e., decent shoes, toiletries, etc.). And food - right now the contract between the State of SD and CBM is something around $3.75 per prisoner per day to feed them "3 meals"; since CBM is in the business to make money, quality and quantity is extremely low. I think the real problem with private prisons is that (1) they're there to make a profit and (2) their contracts always mandate a certain percentage of full beds, which means that even if crime drops, they still expect there to be prisoners. In other words, keep those arrests up no matter what! That's VERY dangerous.

    Elizabeth, you might be right - maybe he couldn't afford to bury her...

  7. Eve, I had a conversation with an official in the Florida system. She bitterly revealed that the prison system had no intention of rehabilitating inmates– that mandate went out of fashion fifty years ago. Prisoners aren’t encouraged to find outside resources on their own.

    What she didn’t say is that prisons are extremely profitable and prison corporations lobby, cajole, and reward those in the justice system to feed defendants into the corporate ‘correctional’ facilities. I wonder how many politicians, judges, and lawyers own stock in the CCA giant (Corrections Corporation of America) or one of its competitors?

  8. To answer your question: she was a cold, cold woman.

    (ducking) Okay, okay, I couldn't resist.

  9. Leigh, I don't think that Americans, by and large, believe in rehabilitation at all. There's a lot of black and white thinking: once a ___, always a ___, and why bother with rehabilitation? After all, if you're in prison, you must be scum, and you should stay there forever. Unless you're someone I like. Or unless it's too expensive, so we'll now institute drug courts.


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