Correctional staff in more than 5,100 jails and prison in the United States are using excessive force in handling mentally ill prisoners, according to a report released by Human Rights Watch. Staff are found to have sprayed painful chemicals to calm prisoners with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression. Mentally ill detainees were also shocked with powerful electric stun weapons and strapped for days in chairs or beds.
Detainees subjected to the maltreatment ended up with broken jaws, noses, ribs and lacerations, second-degree burns, deep bruises and damaged internal organs.
In some cases, the maltreatment ends with the prisoner’s death.
Human Rights Watch exposed torture of mentally ill prisoners
There is no data available that sheds light into the abuse and torture conducted by U.S. correctional staff across states. However, the Human Rights Watch has documented what goes behind bars.
While staff are allowed and authorized to use force to control disruptive behavior of mentally ill detainees, they abused this authority, Human Rights Watch has found. Staff apply force even if detainees are only behaving in a manner expected from mentally ill people.
Violent force is applied when mentally ill prisoners urinate on the floor, use profane language, bang their heads on a cell door or wall; even to the most mundane annoyance, including complaining about not receiving a meal, refusing to come out from their cell or simply vexing jail officers.
“Jails and prisons can be dangerous, damaging, and even deadly places for men and women with mental health problems. Force is used against prisoners even when, because of their illness, they cannot understand or comply with staff orders,” said Jamie Fellner, U.S. program senior adviser at Human Rights Watch.
Video documents torture suffered by mentally ill prisoners
Watch the video below. (Warning: contains graphic content)
In a video released by Human Rights Watch, one Colorado prisoner who is suffering schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type, died after hours of being chained in a restraint chair. The prisoner was initially found by the staff lying face down on the floor of his cell barely able to move. Instead of bringing him to the clinic, the staff handcuffed him, fastened the cuffs to a belly chain and shackled his ankles. He later died of hyponatremia, a blood condition that if treated immediately would have not led to the prisoner’s death.
A 62-year-old prisoners in Florida was not given medications for depression and anxiety. He kept banging and yelling on the cell door. Deputies sprayed him with chemical spray for more than 12 times just within 36 hours. He was cuffed in a restraint chair and his face was covered with a spit mask. The prisoner died from cardiac arrest.
A 58-year-old woman with bipolar disorder was imprisoned in Iowa for placing non-emergency calls to 911 and resisting arrest. She was not able to take medications while inside jail. At one point, she refused to change her jumpsuit and cursed at the jail staff who was attending to her. The staff responded by tasing her for a couple of times for eight minutes.
The Human Rights Watch released a comprehensive report detailing the maltreatment received by mentally ill detainees in prisoners across the states. The 127-page report is titled “Callous and Cruel: Use of Force against Inmates with mental Disabilities in US Jails and Prisons.”
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