Whose side do mainstream media take? If you examine today’s August 19, 2010 Sacramento Bee article by Cynthia Hubert, “Mentally ill woman must plead guilty to get transferred from Sacramento jail, DA says,” it looks as if Sacramento’s mentally ill patients are ending up in jail when they are asking for help.
In the Sacramento Bee article, you’ll read about a mentally ill individual left behind bars in a Sacramento jail for 3 1/2 months so far. The individual is not dangerous or psychotic. She has had bipolar disorder, is a psychiatrist’s wife, and cares for her elderly husband with dementia. She’s not homeless or camping on anyone’s property. She lives in a cottage owned by her mother. And she manages her medications, cares for her ill husband, and lives her life.
So when she called for help for her bipolar problems, why was she accused of assaulting a peace officer, and put behind bars for 3 1/2 months and counting? That’s the problem being covered well by Sacramento mainstream media.
Is jail the only place for the mentally ill? If emergency rooms are complaining that the severely psychotic are swarming the hospital waiting rooms, what happens to people with bipolar disorder and depression who are mentally ill, on medications, but not severely psychotic? Doesn’t jail cause them to spiral down mentally more than life?
What’s the choice in Sacramento? Basically, the media is covering well the stories of personal experiences of various Sacramentans. But how does the media bring attention to the rising rate of suicides in local jails?
The job of the media is to tell the news about what the path through the criminal justice system is like with all its complications, amplified when the defendant is seriously mentally ill. What happened to the locked facilities of mental hospitals since the patients were let out on medications? Did the catch-all net become the jails, overcrowded as they are?
You have problems like cases pending for so long a time that it worsens the conditions of the mentally ill in jail because they are perceived as acting strangely enough to get them arrested.
As a consumer, your top priority is public safety. The police are protecting public safety. Anyone who has mental problems needs help. And those in jail who have committed crimes need monitoring. The problem for the media to make readers aware of is that not all mentally ill commit crimes. Some do. Others harm themselves. And still others harm themselves and take others with them, including their families when they commit suicide.
That’s where the monitoring comes in. The media’s job is accountability. How can the police tell whether they’re entering the home of a person for a standoff or to help someone who’s sick? The excellent job Sacramento media is doing is explaining to the public what happens when mental health cases become entangled in the criminal system.
For the mentally ill, usually in jail, they deteriorate emotionally and physically. Where is Sacramento’s safety net? Can the mentally ill even afford medications? Sacramento’s jails are becoming mental health treatment facilities in some ways. Should they be? A recent study found that four times as many mentally ill people in the state are in jails or prisons as in psychiatric hospitals, according to the Sacramento Bee article.
How Much Does it Cost?
You, the taxpayer pick up the bill in many ways when costs are high. According to the report stated in the Sacramento Bee article, in 2008, the cost of a bed for “acute mental health services ” in a psychiatric unit of county jails in San Mateo and Santa Clara was $1,350 a day, it says. If you look at the media, the Sacramento Bee noted that officials reported that the cost in Sacramento has been close to what was reported for San Mateo and Santa Clara.
If you talk to the police, they’ll tell you how many more mentally ill individuals they’ve seen, encountered, and had to deal with since financial crises closed down the various county services for the mentally ill. It’s all a matter of budget cuts for services to those with emotional problems and mental illness.
Beds for psychiatric patients in Sacramento jails are nearly full. If a mentally ill person goes to the emergency room of a hospital, there’s a long wait. The Sacramento Bee recently reported a case where one person had to wait 36 hours for help with no one watching her other than security guards. Another patient who called the police for help instead of an ambulance, ended up in jail for creating too much drama by making suicidal-like motions either holding or dropping a knife. Too much drama will give the mentally ill jail time.
Often the patient in jail instead of in a hospital ends up shackled and handcuffed. Sometimes the psychiatric unit is full. Where do they go? The average person fears that mentally ill people will break into their homes. The mentally ill person fears jail, but may not be able to afford the fees of ambulances or emergency rooms. And hospitals can’t turn down help if someone without money walks into a hospital for emergency physical help. How is the media helping the mentally ill patient, who often is suicidal, depressed, or fearful?
The pattern follows this regimen many times. County services fall away. Patients spiral downward. Patients are put in jail after showing signs of desperation. Police react to drama with handcuffs, tasers, and jail. That’s not the way to get help. Sometimes the police shoot the mentally ill person, and then the family sues. Police sometimes perceive behavior that’s dramatic as a threat. The mentally ill person may want help and to get help, attracts attention. But the attention may be seen as drama, which is what the police don’t want.
The end result is bail being set so high, the patient remains in jail, spiraling downward. What’s the best solution? When the media steps in, it’s to protect the population, to create safety for the public when the safety net for the patient is broken.
Do the mentally ill get to go into locked facilities, and for how long–until the money runs out? Are beds available? Once stable, the mental patient often ends up back in jail. Mental hospitals usually won’t keep patients in for months or years. That ended in the 1950s. How long will hospitals keep mental patients in locked psychiatric facilities? It’s going to end up in the courts.
What does the media write about a mental patient in jail who says she’s innocent? Whose side does the media take–the side of the patient or the side of the public’s right to safety from someone who may be suicidal? And how can anyone tell whether a mentally ill person won’t try to take others with him? It’s all about how the news is reported. Usually, the media takes the side of the patient and the patient’s lawyer.