Criminalizing Mental Health

Don’t know what moons are squaring my planets but it seems as if mental health issues are converging all around me. Today, I went to give a presentation at North East Florida Hospital in McClenny, Florida. The presentation was usurped by the hospital director delivering a summary of the hospital cuts mandated by the state legislature. I could not believe that the legislature mandated that the hospital would loose 5.1 million dollars in budget cuts and the loss of 120 positions. Complicating the issues was a parallel mandate that no patient beds would be lost.

I sat there totally mesmerized that a hospital for the mentally disturbed could take a hit like that and not endanger the patients and staff as well as maintain their certifications. I asked the director how such reductions over a long time would impact the prison systems to which he replied: The sheriff of Duval county claims that he has the largest mental health operation in North Florida as a part of his county Jail.

My own sense without being able to validate it is that the Department of Corrections for the state of Florida has a bigger mental health operation than the sum total of all other state agencies. Know also that the main function is to stabilize inmates and not deal with the issues and problems associated with their well being.

I think the saddest commentary of the DOC mental health operation happened one day when i was visiting the Crises Stabilization Unit (CSU) at Zepherhills CI. I was on a walk through with the chaplain when we entered what appeared to be a day room of sorts for those that were coming out of an assortment of psychotic conditions to a form of stability. The chaplain was well known and well respected. On his entrance there were about 5 inmates that gathered around him. To a one they asked if he could call their families to tell them they had been moved to a new prison as part of a psychotic break. This he said he would do and he took out his notebook. Then he said: you know that this will have to be a collect call and would the person accept it. There was this incredible atmosphere of despair and despondency that fell on each and every man. Then without a word they all turned and walked back to their cells around the day room.

Talk about total isolation and nobody cared. To be recovering from a psychotic break and know that there was no one that cared much less knew that it had happened. It was a three hour ride back to the center in High Springs and among he saddest rides i have ever had.

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