Friday, January 27, 2023

By Josh McGhee

Good morning, MindSiters! It’s good to be back after a restful end of the year. This month, we chatted with an Army veteran and retired corrections officer about his path to becoming a mental health advocate for Black men. We’ll also dive into the lack of police officers trained in crisis intervention techniques in New Hampshire, where a teen was fatally shot during a mental health crisis.

And we’ll take a look at Washington state, where state agencies continue to fail to provide timely mental health evaluations for people in jail.

Let’s get into it…

A chat with Douglas Reed

Douglas Reed is a mental health advocate and host of the “Let’s Go Show.”

Douglas Reed is a man that has worn a lot of hats. He served in the U.S. Army in Frankfurt, Germany. After decades in the service, he got a job working for the Federal Bureau of Prisons. As he approaches 60, he still considers himself “a kid from Cincinnati.”

But, his time in Germany and policing prisons left scars. 

“It did give me a level of understanding of who I am and being a leader. But there was also a good deal of trauma,” he said, recalling a terrorist attack on his Army base that left him with PTSD. “There were things I had to push through.”

The discipline he learned in the Army made him the model employee to police prisons. As the years piled on, that discipline clashed with the racism he experienced and watched the prisoners endure.

“Originally, I didn’t see the whole picture,” Reed said, remembering a conversation he had with an inmate who told him he was “part of the system of mass incarceration.”

When he retired from working in prisons, he knew he wanted to give back and began working with a program called Reinventing Reentry. He then spent time working as director of partnerships and engagement for Black Men Heal, a service providing free therapy to Black men.

Now, he’s got a new venture. Read the full Q and A with Reed here.

Did a lack of crisis training for police lead to a New Hampshire teen’s death?

On Jan. 1, the family of 17-year-old Mischa Fay called 911. They told dispatchers he was experiencing a mental health crisis and needed assistance. They also said he was armed with a knife. Within minutes of arriving at the house, one officer tased the boy and another shot him in the chest, killing him.

While mental health-related calls are common, finding an officer trained in de-escalating mental health crises in the Gilford police department is not easy, according to the Concord Monitor. Only a single officer – Alyssa Raxter – has received Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) out of the 20 in the department. 

Records obtained by the newspaper show members of the Fay family had called police for mental health emergencies six times in the previous year. The two officers who fatally shot Fay had responded twice to the calls at the home. 

Gilford Police Lt. Adam Vansteensberg told the newspaper the department doesn’t have a specific policy for dealing with mental health calls. 

“It’s pretty vague,” he said.

Following the fatal shooting, the Concord Monitor launched an investigation and found that only 16% of the nearly 3,000 officers in the state have taken CIT training, which is supposed to help officers deescalate mental health crises so they don’t end violently. The New Hampshire chapter of NAMI called for departments to prioritize CIT training following the shooting – but also noted that law enforcement should only be responding when absolutely necessary. 

Instead, the calls should be handled by mobile crisis units that deploy trained mental health workers instead of police officers, said Susan Stearns, executive director of NAMI-NH. 

In New Hampshire, more than 60% of people shot and killed by police in the last decade struggled with mental illness, according to an analysis by the Monitor.

Washington failing at providing mental health care in jails

A disability rights group in Washington says the state’s Department of Social and Health Services is failing to provide timely mental health services to thousands of people in jail, leaving them languishing in custody, waiting to be tried or released, according to reporting by the Seattle Times. Disability Rights Washington filed a motion in federal court saying the department is in breach of a 2018 settlement to provide competency restoration services, which determines the competency of an individual to stand trial, to thousands waiting in jails.

“This was like a freight train coming down the tracks,”said Kimberly Mosolf, of Disability Rights Washington. “No way could you convince me that this was not absolutely foreseeable and preventable, and that the state has continued to move forward with this plan without really having enough beds or other options for this population while closing those beds at the hospital.”

Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman said the motion was “very serious” and expects to schedule a hearing as soon as February, according to reporting by the Seattle Times

Under the settlement, the state is required to provide mental health care no later than seven days after their competency evaluation. As of October, wait times for services had ballooned to an average wait of 83 days.

The state is building a new 350-bed facility that could ease wait times, but construction won’t be completed for several years, the Times reports. 

Until next month,

Josh McGhee 

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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Type of work:

Josh McGhee

Staff reporter Josh McGhee covers the intersection of criminal justice and mental health with an emphasis on public records and data reporting. He previously reported for Injustice Watch, the Chicago Reporter,...