World

When Prison and Mental Illness Amount to a Death Sentence

Markus Johnson slumped naked against the wall of his cell, skin flecked with pepper spray, his face a mask of puzzlement, exhaustion and resignation. Four men in black tactical gear pinned him, his face to the concrete, to cuff his hands behind his back.

He did not resist. He couldn’t. He was so gravely dehydrated he would be dead by their next shift change.

“I didn’t do anything,” Mr. Johnson moaned as they pressed a shield between his shoulders.

It was 1:19 p.m. on Sept. 6, 2019, in the Danville Correctional Center, a medium-security prison a few hours south of Chicago. Mr. Johnson, 21 and serving a short sentence for gun possession, was in the throes of a mental collapse that had gone largely untreated, but hardly unwatched.

He had entered in good health, with hopes of using the time to gain work skills. But for the previous three weeks, Mr. Johnson, who suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, had refused to eat or take his medication. Most dangerous of all, he had stealthily stopped drinking water, hastening the physical collapse that often accompanies full-scale mental crises.

Mr. Johnson’s horrific downward spiral, which has not been previously reported, represents the larger failures of the nation’s prisons to care for the mentally ill. Many seriously ill people receive no treatment. For those who do, the outcome is often determined by the vigilance and commitment of individual supervisors and frontline staff, which vary greatly from system to system, prison to prison, and even shift to shift.

The country’s jails and prisons have become its largest provider of inpatient mental health treatment, with

Related Articles

Check Also
Close
Back to top button