Sundance Festival Highlights How the Criminal Justice System Treats Mental Illness


A high profile movie shown at The Sundance Festival recently highlighted the treatment of people with mental illness by America’s criminal justice system.

Kenneth Rosenberg, a psychiatrist, and director of “Bedlam,” highlighted how the criminal justice system is failing the mentally ill at a movie showcased at the Sundance Festival earlier this year.

Rosenberg described how Los Angeles County Jail in California, Rikers Island in New York City, and Harris County Jail in Texas house almost 44,000 people, reported Deseret News.

The film highlights how many of these inmates suffer from mental illnesses including bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, and depression.

Mental illness is highlighted at Sundance Festival

Sundance film considers Criminal Justice System Treats Mental Illness

Bedlam examines the dismantling of America’s mental care system that left prisons and jails as the front line for people with psychiatric problems.

Rosenberg claims in the movie people who end up in jails frequently do so as a last resort. They cannot access the long-term healthcare they need and end up incarcerated after time on the streets or in emergency rooms.

The film “Bedlam” is named after the infamous psychiatric hospital in London that housed people with mental disorders.

The film describes the dismantling of a once-extensive network of state mental hospitals under President John F. Kennedy. The idea was to return people with mental illnesses into society and provide treatment through community mental health centers.

The government withdrew federal funding from the centers in the 1980s. Many people with mental illnesses ended up on the streets and in jails and prisons.

Rosenberg had first-hand experience of mental illness. His sister was diagnosed with schizophrenia and institutionalized when she was just 20-years-old.

Thousands of people with mental illnesses are locked up in Arizona. In 2014, a report by the Treatment Advocacy Center found mentally ill people are 10 times more likely to end up in jails and prisons in Arizona.

Nationally, about 26 percent of people who are locked up suffer from a mental health disorder, compared to 18 percent of the general public. An article in Arizona Senora News Service estimated more than 11,000 people in the state’s prisons suffer from a mental illness.

The criminal justice system treats mental illness in a blunt way. At the Garcia Law Firm, we champion the rights of people with mental disorders. Please contact us today for a consultation if your loved one has been charged with a criminal offense.


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Court Rules a Judge Can Order Arizona to Develop a Prison Staffing Plan to Meet Mental Health Needs


It’s no secret that mentally ill people require greater attention and care than other inmates in Arizona and elsewhere. Mental health advocates believe this means more prison workers are required to meet the unique needs of mentally ill inmates in prisons.

The prison system in Arizona has fought demands for greater staffing.

However, at the end of 2018, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with lawyers who represent inmates. The justices found a federal magistrate judge made a mistake when he concluded a past settlement in Arizona prevented the court from ordering a plan that increased prison staffing.

Why mental health needs for inmates in Arizona should be considered

Judge says mental health needs should be considered in prisons

The appeals court ruled a lower court has the power to order prison officials to develop a general staffing plan that benefits mentally ill inmates, reported KTAR News.

An Associated Press report noted U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver said an agreement reached four years ago could be thrown out for non-compliance.

Attorneys representing mentally ill inmates say the lack of healthcare workers at 10 state-run prisons is one of the most significant obstacles to meeting the needs of inmates.

The recent ruling clarifies the settlement in a 2012 lawsuit. Advocates for the inmates said Arizona’s state-run prisons fail to meet basic requirements for providing proper mental health care and other health services. Some inmates complained serious conditions like cancer went undetected and there were even reports of inmates being told to pray for treatment.

The lawsuit was settled two years later. The state of Arizona did not acknowledge any wrongdoing.

Although the settlement in 2014 gave the court the power to enforce the agreement, it said the judiciary lacked the power to order a new prison building or the hiring of staff. However, Silver can tell prisons they need more staff to meet the needs of inmates with mental health issues, she concluded.

KTAR noted the new ruling means the court may issue a general staffing order for prisons. However, this does not require the state to hire a specific number or type of personnel to remedy any noncompliance with the prior settlement.

Inadequate staffing and the inability of prison staff to meet the needs of mentally ill inmates remains a problem in Arizona. At the Garcia Law Firm, we have decades of experience in helping the mentally ill in the criminal justice system. Call us at (602) 340-1999.


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Arizona is Accused of Dragging its Heels in Improving Mental Health Care for Inmates


The standard of mental health care for inmates in Arizona remains a matter of serious concern and an argument for alternatives. Recently, a judge accused the state over the standard of its mental health care for inmates.

In November, a judge examining a legal settlement related to the standard of health care in Arizona prisons warned an agreement the state reached four years ago faces being thrown out.

An Associated Press report noted U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver issued an order that the state was ill-advised in defending its noncompliance with mental healthcare standards for inmates.

mental health care for inmates in Arizona is under fire

Judge questions mental health care for inmates in Arizona

The judge raised the prospect of throwing out a four-year agreement and resuming litigation over the standard of inmate care in Arizona.

The judge made her comments following evidence the state has failed to make a range of improvements it was meant to implement after a 2014 lawsuit brought by prisoners.

Under the terms of the agreement, Arizona was supposed to ensure newly prescribed medications are provided to inmates within two days. Medical providers in prisons were  ordered to tell inmates about the results of diagnostic studies and pathology reports within five days of receiving the records.

The lawsuit claimed Arizona’s 10 state-run facilities failed to meet fundamental requirements for providing adequate medical and mental health care to inmates. Some prisoners complained that serious diseases like cancer went undetected. The court heard allegations some prisoners were instructed to pray to be cured.

Five months before Judge Silver’s comments, U.S. Magistrate Judge David Duncan found Arizona Corrections Director Charles Ryan in contempt of civil court. He fined Arizona $1.4 million for failing to make the bulk of the improvements to prisoner care promised when the class-action lawsuit was settled in 2014, reported AP. According to reports. Arizona paid the fine and was reimbursed by a private company that provides health care in state prisons.

Judge Silver said the court was not inclined to allow non-compliance with the provisions of the lawsuit.

As a criminal defense lawyer who represents the mentally ill, I believe everyone deserves a fair trial in the Arizona court system. In Arizona, both the criminal justice and the prison systems often fail those with mental illnesses.

The rights of all people who come before the criminal justice system must be protected. Our law firm considers the alternatives to incarceration for people who are at a disadvantage compared to others. Please contact us today for a free consultation if you or a family member has been charged with a crime.

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Arizona Prisons Struggle with Rise in Inmate Self-Harm


As the mental health care in state prisons becomes increasingly worse, more and more inmates are attempting to harm themselves. New reports on inmate self-harm have come in as a result of the ADC attempting to settle a lawsuit over poor health conditions in state prisons. According to the data, hundreds of inmates in Arizona prisons have hurt themselves and tried to take their own lives this year. 

Mental Health in Arizona Prisons

Inmate self-harm has increased dramatically in the past year due to the lack of mental health care in state prisons. According to the ADC report, total incidents have increased by 70 percent. Over 80 inmates have tried to hang themselves and more than 138 have tried to overdose. The number of inmates using blunt force trauma such as banging their head against the wall of inserting sharp objects into their bodies to harm themselves has also almost tripled in just one year.

What this problem comes down to is the understaffing of health-care professionals in state prisons. For example, the state prison in Douglas, AZ has no medical director and just one psych associate. There’s just not enough care about mental and physical health in the state prison system and therefore no one is worried about getting resources into the prisons to help people get better. 

The state prison in Phoenix, which was designed for seriously mentally ill inmates, has less than half of the psychiatric staff that was supposed to be employed there, as well as having no psychiatric director and no mental health director.

In attempts fix the self-harm problem, the state is now training personnel on how to handle inmate self-harm incidents. They have also started a program to help watch and transition inmates back into the population after they’ve harmed themselves.

According to the ACD, the year 2018 is already on track to be the worst in inmate self-harm.

Photo courtesy of Pavlofox

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