Lehigh County needs to help the mentally ill, not lock them up – The Morning Call

Think about this headline: “Dozens Held In Lehigh County Jail As a result of They Undergo From Epilepsy.”

Positive, hundreds will go to jail to protest. Nevertheless, we’re silent about incarcerated folks affected by psychological sickness. One in 4 folks in jail has a extreme psychological sickness. Certainly, jails and prisons have turn out to be our main psychological well being hospitals for the poor, and LCJ is not any exception.

So what occurs when the jail is requested to face within the hospital? When an individual who desperately wants assistance is trapped in a spot that provides no assist? Take into account a shopper story of mine. I will name her Jane.

Ettore J.  Angelo is a criminal defense attorney in the Lehigh Valley.

Within the midst of a paranoid psychosis, Jane parks her automotive at a home she has nothing to do with. Owners referred to as the police. Bethlehem police officer Ralph Guntz arrived and, as he instructed me a yr later, instantly decided that Jane was mentally ailing. He took her to the emergency room at LVH-Muhlenberg. Such was the final kindness given to Jane that two methods – medication and justice – failed her at each flip.

Jane suffered from delusions of abduction, resisting efforts to restrain her and biting an attendant. Lastly, she was successfully drugged and restrained. Sadly, within the meantime, the police arrived and consulted the Lehigh County District Legal professional for route. Cost or not cost, that was the query for the DA.

In keeping with courtroom paperwork, the DA’s workplace charged police with felony aggravated assault for disobeying and biting Jane. I requested for details about this choice, however DA Jim Martin succinctly knowledgeable me that Jane’s case was “closed and the defendant was represented by a reliable legal professional from the Public Defender’s Workplace all through.” No different data was offered.

Typical manifestations of paranoid dysfunction are mistrust of others and an inclination to be “hostile, cussed, and argumentative”—particularly Jane’s signs.

The tragic irony is that Jane was precisely the place she wanted to be for therapy. As an alternative, she was discharged from the hospital and dedicated to a jail cell. why? To point out signs which can be a written description of her sickness.

Jane wakened within the chilly jail cell, clutching a “suicide blanket”, and could not keep in mind how she obtained there. She continues to combat her demons, at one level the guards beat her up, once more exhibiting signs of her sickness. Guards lack coaching in coping with severely mentally ailing inmates. That is the aim of the hospital.

Within the clutches of the justice system, Jane’s nightmare begins in earnest. This severely mentally ailing girl languished in solitary confinement for 5 months till a plea discount was struck: aggravated assault was overturned due to her admission to a misdemeanor. Word that straightforward assault sentencing tips enable for testing.

5 months in solitary confinement, crammed into darkish corners creates psychological sickness. Think about the one you love in that cell. However after 5 months not less than she’ll be free, proper? mistaken.

Though the decide sentenced Jane to time served, she was not launched. why? As a result of she had no residence to return to, having misplaced him as a result of 5 months in jail. With no residence, Jane couldn’t full her “residence plan” for parole. She remained in her cell for one more two months.

Jane’s case is not any exception with regard to the “home plan” problem. A trusted Lehigh County official instructed me that at any given time, between 50 and 90 residents—who’ve served a sentence ordered by a decide—but stay locked up as a result of they do not personal a house.

I’ve beneficial options. Lehigh has house for a “transitional residence” in its at present vacant Work Launch Heart, or Occasions Heart, which is now 80% empty. No motion has been taken to search out housing options or to construct psychological well being centres.

Taxpayers spend $100 a day to arrest somebody like Jane. Of each tax greenback, 71 cents goes to “Regulation & Order”; 5 cents goes to social help measures. Because the saying goes, the funds is an ethical doc. What does this disparity in spending say about us as a folks?

Jane won’t ever get again these seven months she missed together with her two lovely youngsters. These methods owe Jane and numerous others an apology and, most significantly, a reform of practices in how they deal with these affected by the agonies of psychological sickness.

Lehigh County has $10 million obtainable in American Rescue Plan funds. There are answers to the psychological well being and housing crises. Leaders should comply with the trail of compassion to resolve these points.

Here is an concept: Along with plans to construct upscale flats and comfortable espresso outlets on the 195 acres of the previous Allentown State Hospital, let’s dedicate a number of of these acres to psychological well being and transitional housing—serving to arms, as a substitute of handcuffs and cages.

Ettore J. Angelo is a prison protection legal professional within the Lehigh Valley.

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