Friday, May 26, 2013

By Josh McGhee

Happy Friday, MindSiters. Thursday marks the end of my first year at MindSite News – so happy anniversary to me 🍾🎊!

This month, we’ll start with a look at a new study on the public’s widespread lack of knowledge about the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline and a reporter’s claims of a possible rise in psychiatric detentions for those calling the hotline.

Last, we’ll take a look at a new analysis of the more than 122,000 people currently in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons and jails. Let’s get into it…

Not many know when to use 988

Nine months after the transition to the three-digit number, most adults still don’t know that the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline exists. And many of those who do are afraid that calling it will summon the police, according to a new study conducted for The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Just 13% of those surveyed knew about the line’s existence and its purpose, according to the study, which looked at responses from more than 5,000 people. The effectiveness of a standard number – whether it’s 911 or 988 – relies on people being aware it exists and knowing when to use it.

Even when the process was explained to survey respondents, many still expressed reluctance to use the hotline, with 41% expressing fears that police would be summoned. The LGBTQ+ community was particularly concerned about these risks. 

Among LGBTQ+ people, 55% expressed fear that law enforcement would be sent, 50% worried that they may be forced to go to a hospital, 45% feared ending up with a bill they couldn’t pay and 30% worried that they’d end up in jail. 

“What we saw was that while [the LGBTQ+] community has higher awareness of 988, they also had somewhat higher concerns,” Tracy Velázquez, the lead researcher of the study, told MindSite News. She added that the service has rolled out a 24/7 chat service specialized for LGBTQ+ youth and young adults. 

The fears of what may happen to people who call 988 was highlighted by Mad in America, a mental health news and opinion site that pushes for “rethinking psychiatric care.” An article by Rob Wipond asserts that the increase in calls to 988 have led to a rise in police interventions, call tracings, and psychiatric detentions.

Read my full story here:

122,000 suffering in solitary in U.S. jails and prisons

On any given day, more than 122,000 people in prisons and jails are in solitary confinement for 22 or more hours, according to a new report written by Solitary Watch, a nonprofit watchdog organization that works to uncover the truth about solitary confinement and other harsh prison conditions in the United States.

The study, which provides an accounting of the total use of solitary confinement across the U.S., is an undercount, according to the authors, because the numbers are self-reported by corrections departments. It also doesn’t include less informal forms of solitary confinement such as group lockdowns or quarantines. The count also doesn’t include immigration facilities that use solitary confinement more than 9,000 times a year, according to the report. 

“The widespread use of solitary confinement in our prisons and jails is a humanitarian crisis,” said Jean Casella, director of Solitary Watch. “As the United Nations has confirmed, it’s torture taking place on U.S. soil. Yet until now, we haven’t even had a comprehensive count of how many people are in solitary.”

According to thereport, federal and state prisons reported locking up roughly 6.3% of all people in prison in solitary confinement. Meanwhile, local jails and federal pretrial detention facilities had more than 42,000 people – or 5.6 percent of the national jail population – in solitary confinement, according to numbers from mid-2019.

The groups made a number of recommendations including: 

  • End solitary confinement, other than for periods of minutes or hours for emergency de-escalation
  • Implement alternatives that are the opposite of solitary confinement
  • Prohibit involuntary lock-ins for people who are the most vulnerable to isolation

Find the full report here.

ICYMI: Earlier this month, MindSite News and WBEZ took home a Peter Lisagor Award for Best Reporting on Crime and Justice for our story looking at police response to mental health calls in Chicago. ProPublica, the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, Reuters, and Modern Healthcare also won awards. Read the full list of winners here

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 is an investigative reporter covering the intersection of criminal justice and mental health with an emphasis on public records and data reporting. He has covered Chicago on various beats for...