Announcing Assistance to the Incarcerated Mentally Ill ("AIMI")
Personal tragedy sometimes gives rise to important new legislation, organizations, and programs promoting social change that benefits Americans, like the Amber Alert, America’s Most Wanted, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and others. In response to the secret incarceration and wrongful death of Larry Morris Neal, his family is establishing AIMI, an organization to advocate for the decriminalization of mental illness in America and increased availability of inpatient psychiatric services. http://wrongfuldeathoflarryneal.com
Larry was a mentally ill heart patient who was secretly arrested in mid-July 2003 and incarcerated until his fatal heart attack on August 1, 2003. For the 18 days of Larry's detainment in Shelby County Jail, Memphis, TN, on some misdemeanor connected with his mental disability, his family and social worker searched for Larry as a missing person. The jail falsely and repeatedly reported that neither Larry nor anyone meeting his physical description was detained in that facility. As an unidentified inmate, Larry presumably did not receive his vital prescription heart and psychiatric drugs.
Upon Larry’s death, his elderly, grieving mother contracted with The Cochran Firm to bring a wrongful death suit against the jail and negligence suits against the State of Tennessee and Larry’s final care home. However, the managing partner of The Cochran Firm’s Memphis office, Julian Bolton, was actually a 20+year member of the Shelby County Commission, the entity that owns and operates the jail where Larry died. In an undisclosed conflict of interest, that law firm apparently kept Larry’s wrongful death case on its shelves inactive for the next 10.5 months while the Tennessee statute of limitations ran. Suit is pending against The Cochran Firm in USDC, Northern Dist. of GA, 1:07-cv-1935.
Subsequently, for over four years, Larry’s family has been denied access to any official records regarding Larry’s fatal arrest, despite the fact that the jail was under federal overview at the time of Larry’s euthanasia. Sadly, Larry’s story is not unique; the mentally ill in America suffer many hardships resulting from inadequate or no care. Thousands of chronically mentally ill Americans who cannot orient themselves into society are jailed, homeless, or warehoused in substandard hospitals where many die each year.
Presently, only the mentally ill who seek and/or willingly accept psychiatric treatment are serviced or hospitalized, unless or until patients are deemed by authorities to be a danger to themselves or others. People who are too sick to recognize their own psychosis are left largely to their own devices. Here is a secret we learned during years of visiting Larry in mental institutions and having met many sick patients: Many acutely mentally ill people simply do not know/believe/accept that they are sick. Many mentally ill people would recover sufficiently to function well in society with proper psychiatric treatment, but too often, patients’ lack of recognition of their own psychosis prevents access to needed care.
Ironically, the movement to deinstitutionalize the mentally ill in America and to curtail enforced treatment options was led for the most part by ex‑psychiatric patients who had themselves been institutionalized. There was a time when even people suffering epilepsy or nervous breakdown were institutionalized. Rejoining society obviously worked well for those who were capable of the self-discipline and presence of mind to launch this movement, many of whom went on to pursue psychiatric careers after release from asylums. But deinstitutionalization was a tragic development for people like Larry and thousands of other sick people presently incarcerated, having only swapped hospital care for jail cells. That is why this mental health system based on voluntary treatment has failed and our humanitarian decision of the 1960’s to deinstitutionalize the mentally ill has resulted in a growing prison population of mentally ill detainees. How humane is jailing sick people?
Other side-effects of our “patients in charge” mental health system are overcrowded jails, an overtaxed criminal justice system, increasing homelessness, and a more dangerous society. Both the Texas woman who drowned her five children and the Virginia Tech student who killed 32 people during a violent rampage were mental patients who needed better treatment and control. We must free our nation’s law enforcement to get back to the business of fighting crime rather than acting as psychiatric caretakers.
Approximately 1.25 million mentally ill American citizens are incarcerated. AIMI believes it is cruel and unusual punishment to jail people whose mental capacity is such that they have limited or no understanding of their criminal charges and their Miranda rights, or persons whose mental faculties are such that they lacked sufficient self-control to understand and abide by the laws that govern the behavior of ordinary citizens. Our law officers are involved in the business of crime and punishment, not psychiatry. It is unfair to put our law officers in the position of psychiatric caretakers for America’s mental patients, and it is wrong to incarcerate citizens for having a disability. Interestingly, it is far cheaper to treat mental patients than to incarcerate them.
Americans generously give to organizations that address social ills partly caused by inadequate care for the chronically mentally ill, like homelessness. AIMI is asking the public to consider giving to help establish AIMI, an organization that addresses a major cause of these problems – inadequate care for the acutely mentally ill. AIMI believes that chronically mentally ill people should be hospitalized or treated as outpatients, not jailed for their disabilities. See the CONTACT US tab for details on how to contribute and otherwise support AIMI's efforts at http://wrongfuldeathoflarryneal.com