Friday, March 31, 2023
By Josh McGhee
Happy Friday MindSiters. We’re one week away from electing a new mayor of Chicago so I can’t use the internet without being inundated with campaign ads. Cheers to the coming end of all this. This month, we catch up with our friends at Injustice Watch, who’ve been looking into the abysmal conditions at Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center.
In New York, a man was shot by police during a mental health crisis after his father called 311. And earlier this month, Spotlight PA took a deep dive into the competency review process in Pennsylvania after learning about a mentally ill woman trapped in the less-than-competent system.
Let’s get into it…
Correction: Due to an editing error, a summary appearing on the MindSite News home page and in the preview section of our emailed newsletter, used the word “fatally” to describe the shooting of Raul de la Cruz. As of the time that the newsletter was finalized and published on the MindSite News website, Mr. de la Cruz was, in fact, reported to be alive and in critical condition. MindSite News regrets the error.
Bronx man in mental health crisis shot by New York City police officers
Santo de la Cruz wanted to avoid harm. So when his 42-year-old son was in the midst of a schizophrenic episode, he called 311 instead of 911 to seek medical intervention. Police responded anyway, and minutes after arriving, they shot Raul de la Cruz, leaving him in critical condition, according to reporting by Gothamist’s Bahar Ostadan.
Doctors gave Raul de La Cruz a slim chance of survival.
“I called them instead because I didn’t want something bad to happen,” the elder de La Cruz told Gothamist in Spanish. “I told them I didn’t want him to do anything bad or for him to end up killed.”
The incident occurred following an argument about Raul posting a video goading police, who he believed were out to get him. His father hoped medical authorities would bring his son to a hospital. Instead, two officers responded, yelling instructions in English, which Raul does not understand.
Raul asked the officers “Que pasa?” before pulling out a knife, according to his dad. Officers fired four shots in an incident that lasted less than half a minute.
The shooting came less than four months after Mayor Eric Adams issued a directive allowing emergency responders to involuntarily transport people with mental health issues to hospitals. A Police Department spokesperson told Gothamist that both officers had been trained in responding to people in crisis.
Calls for shutdown over ‘inhumane’ conditions at juvenile jail
Legal advocates are once again calling for changes at the long-troubled juvenile detention center in Chicago after a new report found staff used illegal forms of restraint and isolation, failed to keep adequate records on confinement and restraint practices, and treated the teens in ways that were “entirely inhumane.”
The conditions were so egregious at Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center that the authors recommend sweeping reforms including shutting down the institution and starting over, according to reporting by Injustice Watch.
The 96-page federally funded report, written by a nonprofit disability rights group, is the latest in a string of critical reports against the center. Previous reporting from Injustice Watch revealed similar findings by a committee convened by the chief of the Cook County Circuit Court. A 2021 report alleged the center failed to provide special education services during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to reporting by Injustice Watch’s Kelly Garcia.
In a written response, Superintendent Leon Dixon said the report “is replete with gross misrepresentations, defamatory statements, and unsupported legal conclusions.”
The authors failed to understand “the role of detention in our complex criminal justice system,” he said.
The vast majority of children in the center are Black. About half have learning disabilities or mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder, according to the report.
Youths at Cook County juvenile detention center are subjected to excessive physical restraint and isolation, according to a report from a disability rights watchdog. Illustration by Verónica Martinez/Injustice Watch
Is this a competent review process?
A six-month investigation by Spotlight PA and the Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism found that policies and laws meant to aid people with severe mental health issues who are accused of a crime actually do the opposite.
A basic legal principle is that people have to be able to assist in their own defense. So when judges believe that someone may be too mentally ill to do so, they delay the proceedings so the person’s “competency” can be evaluated and restored through treatment. The investigation also found that no single agency keeps tabs on people accused of crimes when their competency is questioned. This lack of organization can leave people like Rachel Bridgeman in legal limbo – and trapped in jail. The two newsrooms spent six months reviewing hundreds of pages of documents, conducting dozens of interviews, and analyzing data from nearly 700 cases, but couldn’t determine the total number of people languishing behind bars awaiting a competency review.
“The reality is that too many people with serious mental illness who do not have money in Pennsylvania are lost,” Christopher Welsh, head of the Delaware County public defender’s office, told the newsrooms. “Whether they are lost in a jail cell, they’re lost in the state institutions, or they’re lost because they’re hanging out on the side of the road and no one knows that they’re there, they are like the invisible people in our society.”
Bridgeman, 22, had spent time at two inpatient facilities in her home state of Georgia and had a history of psychosis. She was arrested in August of 2022 with a man she’d gotten romantically involved with on charges of promoting prostitution. She spent the next six weeks in jail, and her mental health became increasingly precarious, described by jail staff as “odd, psychotic,” and “bizarre.”
Eventually, her charges were dropped and she was released from jail, only to find herself locked up again less than three hours later after chugging a bottle of water and eating a bag of chips without paying at a Rite Aid. She would spend the next nine weeks in jail struggling mentally, banging her head against the wall, and being tased and injected with psychiatric drugs – while one deadline after another for court-ordered evaluations and hearings were delayed. Eventually, on December 1, a judge would again dismiss the charges and free her.
Leaders of more than 20 jails across the state agreed jail is a “costly and harmful path” for people who commit crimes as a symptom of their mental illness. But jails are often the only place available to house them.
Since the 1980s, Pennsylvania has closed 10 state-run psychiatric hospitals — and only two of the six remaining hospitals handle competency-related therapy.
Until next month,
If you or someone you know is in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and connect in English or Spanish. If you’re a veteran press 1. If you’re deaf or hard of hearing dial 711, then 988. Services are free and available 24/7.
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