Tallon explains what happens when jails respond to mental health symptoms with discipline rather than treatment

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A man finds himself incarcerated and sentenced to spend 207 days in jail. Denied treatment for his diagnosed mental illness, his symptoms worsen and his frustration grows. The jail responds to his resulting behavior with disciplinary action. The man yells. Infraction. The man bangs on his cell door. Infraction. As the man’s behavior becomes more erratic, the punishments become more severe. He is placed in a small cell by himself, permitted to leave the cell, still by himself, for one hour every day. Then it’s one hour every three days. The man yells again. Infraction. The man throws his mattress inside his small cell. Correctional officers tase him and place him in a restraint device the jail calls the WRAP. The 207 days become 335 days.

This really happened, to a real person. The man’s name is Tallon and he gave an interview for the latest Amplifying Voices of Inmates with Disabilities (AVID) Jail Project video. As he explains, Tallon eventually received his psychiatric medications after unnecessary delay and after receiving over thirty disciplinary actions from the jail.

The punishments Tallon received while his mental illness went untreated included the loss of privileges, permanent placement in solitary confinement, placement on a one “hour out” every 72 hours schedule, the use of force, and the loss of all of his “good time.” In Washington, an inmate’s release date generally starts out automatically reflecting “good time” credit, which may then be deducted through the jail’s disciplinary process.  As a result of all the infractions that Tallon had before he started receiving his medication, the jail pushed his release from November 7, 2015 to March 2, 2016.

Our investigation showed that the jail did not take Tallon’s mental health into account before imposing harsh disciplinary sanctions.  The jail did, however, eventually restore some of his lost privileges and “good time.” Even so, Tallon ended up spending an additional seven weeks in jail, in solitary confinement (albeit with one hour out every 23, rather than 72, hours), because of how he acted when he wasn’t receiving the psychiatric medication he needed.

Stories like Tallon’s are being lived and relived by people in jails and prisons in Washington, and across the country. Correctional facilities routinely discipline people struggling with symptoms of mental illness—such as hallucinations, impulse control, or suspiciousness—for things like yelling, banging their cell doors, or not wearing their jail uniform. The punishments add up and inmates with mental illness often end up staying in jail longer than they otherwise would. Punishing people for exhibiting symptoms of mental illness is unfair, counter-productive, and unlawful. Safeguards can and should be put in place to take mental health into consideration when confronting difficult or negative behaviors.

South Correctional Entity (SCORE) Jail, where Tallon was incarcerated, has made strides towards these safeguards and should be commended for doing so. As a result of ongoing advocacy and collaboration between the AVID Jail Project and SCORE Jail, the jail has significantly reduced the wait times for inmate health assessments. The jail also reports that it has modified its procedures to better ensure consultation with mental health staff during disciplinary proceedings. DRW and SCORE continue to work together on improving conditions for inmates with mental illness.

The AVID Jail Project is a project of Disability Rights Washington (DRW). Visit the project page or contact DRW, for more information about the work being done by the AVID Jail Project. Follow Rooted in Rights on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram for more videos from the AVID Jail Project.

Disability Rights Washington is the protection and advocacy agency for Washington, and is a member of the National Disability Rights Network.