When You Aren’t Even Looking For It

I’m doing research on The Americans with Disabilities Act and similar legislation as it pertains to prison inmates, since it relates to a recent epiphany I had about a character in a story. I think I’ve found what I was looking for in that regard, but while I was looking, I stumbled across a Department of Justice ruling from May of this year regarding violations by a prison in Pennsylvania:

[T]he Justice Department issued a findings letter detailing the results of its investigation into the use of solitary confinement on prisoners with serious mental illness at the Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution at Cresson in Cambria County, Pa. The department found that Cresson’s use of long-term and extreme forms of solitary confinement on prisoners with serious mental illness, many of whom also have intellectual disabilities, violates their rights under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

There’s a lot to digest from that opening paragraph alone. Because this isn’t just a ruling about the use of solitary confinement in a prison. It’s a ruling about using it on mentally-ill inmates. And not just folks with mild sociological trouble, but “severe mental illness.”

That there is one person suffering from severe mental illness in a prison is fairly disturbing to me. That there are multiple prisoners hits me as even more wrong.

And, the statement goes on to discuss, this case is leading to a widespread investigation of Pennsylvania’s prison system in general as regards prisoners with severe mental illness. So it’s not like the Cresson institution is unique. There are apparently enough “severe mental illness” inmates across the state to warrant a statewide investigation.

It’s a frightening reminder and implicit condemnation of the state of mental health care when there appears to be a basic assumption at the federal level that prison populations throughout any state are apparently characterized by multiple, severely mentally ill inmates.

You know, when I read about Arkham Asylum, there’s also a guy who dresses up like a bat to serve justice. I just don’t expect this kind of thing in a world without Harley Quinn and The Penguin.

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