CHILDREN IN LOCKDOWN
Yesterday we wrote about a death row prisoner who was revived after an attempted suicide on the eve of his execution. Today, the grim absurdities continue, with the story of a young, mentally ill inmate in Indiana who was placed in disciplinary segregation (solitary confinement) in response to a suicide attempt–and once there, committed suicide.
According to a post this morning on Sara Mayeux’s Prison Law Blog, the 18-year-old inmate had been a patient in a state mental hospital, but took off on his own while he was out attending a family funeral. The teenager was subsequently arrested for theft and put in the county jail, and then into isolation, where he used his bed sheet to hang himself from his cell window.
Gregory Zick committed suicide in 2003 while incarcerated at the St. Joseph County Jail in Indiana. Zick had a history of suicidal tendencies, evidenced by laceration scars on his wrists and neck; indeed, when he arrived at the county jail he had most recently attempted suicide just a month before. Jail officials arranged for him to continue receiving his prescription psychiatric medications, and placed him on suicide watch. Over the next few weeks Zick was moved on and off suicide watch (in part, it seems, because he himself denied having suicidal tendencies when speaking to jail mental health professionals, although one of the issues in the lawsuit was whether these professionals were actually qualified — one, for instance, did not have a degree in psychology or psychiatry….At the time of his suicide, he was being held in disciplinary segregation, because he “had been charged with attempted suicide and other violations” (my emphasis)… Specifically, according to this news report, Zick was being held in lockdown for removing the blade from his razor.
Mayeux highlights the fact that attemping suicide was apparently treated as a violation of the jail’s rules, warranting placement in “disciplinary segregation”–which is of course the worst possible place for a mentally ill, suicidal inmate.
Most jails and prisons use less blatant terminology when they place their mentally ill inmates in solitary confinement cells: They tend to call it “administrative segregation,” “special housing,” or “protective custody,” rather than “disciplinary segregation.” But the result, of course, is the same. These isolation units–which have been shown to cause severe psychological trauma in prisoners without underlying psychiatric conditions–have become today’s asylums, home to thousands of mentally ill Americans. Many of them are incarcerated to begin with for actions related to their conditions, and once inside, they are placed in lockdown by a system that lacks the resources (and sometimes the will) to provide appropriate treatment.
Gregory Zick’s mother “filed a federal lawsuit against the county and numerous jail officials, alleging that they were deliberately indifferent to her son’s suicidal history, in violation of his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights as well as various rights under Indiana state law,” according to the Prison Law Blog. But a federal district court and later the Seventh Circuit court of appeals dismissed the case against everyone but the county sheriff (who had settled with the boy’s mother for $75,000). The courts found that none of the defendants’ actions constituted “deliberate indifference,” and there was no proven “pattern or policy of inadequate suicide prevention measures by the company hired to run the jail’s mental health services.”