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Mentally ill inmate died after 7 days in NYC prison cell


NEW YORK (AP) -- The grisly deaths of two inmates - one who "baked to death" in his overheated cell, another who sexually mutilated himself while locked up alone for seven days - have raised new questions about the New York City jail system's ability to deal with a burgeoning number of mentally ill people.

The two cases - both exposed by The Associated Press - have prompted a city lawmaker to schedule oversight hearings next month.

"No inmate should be treated that way, especially those with mental health needs. The city has to do more to protect them," City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley said Thursday. "A lot of people who are in Rikers Island should be in a hospital, in a clinical setting, not in a jail."

Bradley Ballard, a 39-year-old inmate who family members said had been diagnosed as schizophrenic, died in September after he was confined to his cell in a mental observation unit at Rikers for seven days for making a lewd gesture at a female guard, according to interviews and documents obtained by the AP.

Denied some of his medication, the agitated inmate tied a rubber band tightly around his genitals. During that period, guards repeatedly peered through the window in his cell but didn't venture inside until it was too late, according to corrections officials' account.

Ballard was found naked and unresponsive on the floor, covered in feces, his genitals swollen and badly infected. He died at a hospital of what officials said appeared to be sepsis, an infection that has spread through the body.

In the other case, Jerome Murdough, 56, a former Marine who suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, died in February after a heating system malfunction caused the temperature in his cell to rise to 101 degrees. He, too, was in a special unit for the mentally ill.

He was taking psychiatric medication that experts say can make people more sensitive to heat.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has vowed to reform the 12,000-inmate Rikers Island jail, amid criticism for months about violence and erratic behavior among inmates, mostly the mentally ill, who make up 40 percent of the population.

As a first step, de Blasio has appointed a corrections commissioner, Joseph Ponte, who has a track record of reducing jail violence and the use of solitary confinement in Maine.

Also, mental health and jail officials have started shift-by-shift briefings on the most troubled inmates, and they are moving to make sure the officers who work with the mentally ill are steadily assigned to the task.

The Correction Department has also opened up two units where mentally ill inmates who have broken jailhouse rules get more intensive clinical attention, rather than being put in solitary confinement.

"I share Mayor de Blasio's belief that we must do better by inmates who suffer from mental health issues," Ponte said in a statement, "and by taking steps like improving coordination and information sharing between security staff and mental health staff, we will."

Following Ballard's death, Health Department officials said an investigation found workers missed multiple opportunities to treat him. The unit chief was transferred out, and staffers were retrained on how to do rounds.

Experts said some of these approaches don't address the real problem.

"Correctional institutions are such a poor substitute for mental hospitals, which is what they're basically functioning as in our society," said Dr. Bandy Lee, a Yale psychiatrist who once worked at Rikers. "The problem is the correction setting is not fit to deliver the proper care, and in fact many of the settings exacerbate their symptoms."

Nick Freudenberg, a professor of public health at City University of New York who ran programs at Rikers for 15 years, said the two graphic deaths highlighted various ways in which the city's criminal justice system fails the seriously mentally ill: by not having special courts for them, by not training police well enough on how to deal with them, and by not having better communication between jail guards and mental health professionals.

"The one level is who did what on what particular day in this facility for this particular inmate who died," he said. "Another level is the sorry state of mental health services in our society."

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sylvabugg2 May 22 2014 at 8:19 AM

It was during the Reagan administration that all the major the major mental health hospitals were closed in this country. That left the mentally ill to either walk the streets and eventually end up in jail or prison or to be cared for by families who aren't equipped to deal with them. It is truly shameful how a country the size of this one treats its mentally ill.

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50 replies
Ann May 22 2014 at 11:52 AM

Lanterman-Petris-Short Act (LPS), which went into effect in 1969 and quickly became a national model. Among other things, it prohibited forced medication or extended hospital stays without a judicial hearing. The Governor signed a bill inspired by those who clamored for the "civil rights" of the mentally ill to be on the street and who claimed they'd be better off with community counseling.

So no, Reagan, didn't close mental hospitals or put anyone on the street. Progressive views on mental health, a misguided ACLU, and politicians who "know better" did it. Then finally (the last year Reagan was governor), O’Connor v. Donaldson, 422 U.S. 563 (1975), the Supreme Court found a constitutional right to liberty for mental health patients: "There is...no constitutional basis for confining such persons involuntarily if they are dangerous to no one." With this constitutional recognition, the practice of mental health law became a process of limiting and defining the power of the state to detain and treat. The result was a codification of mental health rights that have done away with non-voluntary commitment except in extreme cases.

Oh, and what happened to the promised Mental Health clinics to aid mental health out patients? They built them and they did not come. Who would have thought that unsupervised mental health patients would make poor life decisions and not utilize the support system that was built for them? Or, a better question is, who in their right mind thought they would?

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36 replies
linmarco May 22 2014 at 9:05 AM

Never, under any circumstances, get caught up in the American criminal justice system. Never!

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17 replies
cplandman May 22 2014 at 11:45 AM

Free speech rights do not end when you are arrested or jailed. Just because a female guard was offended by his gestures, he should not have been confined alone. If she cannot tolerate the work she should quit and go work at Disney Land. All of the guards involved in this incident should be fired.

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18 replies
? May 22 2014 at 7:34 AM

one less piece of crap in the world

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50 replies
BONNA HEANEY May 22 2014 at 3:31 PM

One less Obama voter ! Thats a good thing.....

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20 replies
T.Bickle May 22 2014 at 10:36 AM

How about scumbag pervert dies in cell? What a worthless POS

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13 replies
clark May 22 2014 at 9:18 AM

This has been a problem for years,what to do with the severly disturbed. There is no REAL collective will to do anything about these people. The government pays lip service to the problem, the military is overwhelmed by the hugh number of guys coming back with PTSD and the country in general is indifferent to the problem...things will only change when they and their pending crimes hit the street in such numbers that the problem of how to deal mental illness can no longer be ignored..get ready,coming to a street near you....

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8 replies
tsr5112 May 22 2014 at 8:01 AM

They will only consider these type of things tragedies if someone responsible is charged. Not just a scapegoat but the one responsible. Otherwise it's business as usual for them.

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4 replies
hoofy53 May 22 2014 at 6:04 PM

I guess Bloomberg should invest more money into his jails and less in trying to take away peoples gun ownership and forcing the teaching of Spanish in the schools !!

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2 replies
xanadutu hoofy53 May 23 2014 at 12:41 AM

I was wondering when you jerks -AKA NRA GOP-TOIDS - would rear up an voice their stupidity!!

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1 reply
mark and sheri xanadutu May 23 2014 at 2:40 AM

Actually, hoofy53 has a point. Why not spend his Billions helping the mentally ill instead of attacking people who disagree with him politically, or about the Second Amendment? Why Not? Because that would show he really thinks about people, rather than just power, the ability to tell people what to do.

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doonooch hoofy53 May 23 2014 at 8:05 AM

give it a rest

Flag Reply +1 rate up
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