Mental health is a complex issue, and controlling mental health issues requires support from many parts of society. Unfortunately, it is quite common for those with mental health issues to wind up in the criminal justice system.
Instead of receiving mental health support for addiction, personality disorders or post-traumatic stress, they end up in state custody. The experience of being in prison can worsen someone’s mental health and may push them into even more serious substance abuse patterns.
Although the state of Michigan and the professionals operating prisons and jails should provide basic support and services to all inmates, those with mental health issues often go underserved. In some cases, like a recent tragic case of inmate neglect, failures by those who work at state facilities can result in preventable deaths related to mental health issues and legal claims from those left behind.
Inmates often require intervention, treatment and support
Incarceration is meant to be a punishment, but it should not be cruel and unusual. Sometimes, what happens when someone is in state custody becomes unacceptably cruel. For example, a man in an Upper Peninsula prison died at the age of 38 in 2019 due to what his family believes was ongoing medical neglect. His death led to a wrongful death lawsuit.
The allegations against 12 of the workers at the facility included that they denied the inmate medical care despite obviously worsening symptoms. The man in question lost 51 pounds in a few weeks and ultimately died because of the lack of treatment. By the time the facility sought medical treatment for him, it was too late. The same day that he was approved for transfer to a medical facility, he died at the jail while strapped to a restraint chair waiting for transport.
Families have rights when the state fails so egregiously
Even those who have committed violent crimes and are in state custody for their offenses have human rights and deserve basic decency, as well as adequate medical care. In the tragic case of the prisoner from the Upper Peninsula, his family will potentially receive justice from the civil courts.
While a ruling against the professionals that the prison who caused this tragic situation won’t bring the deceased inmate back, civil litigation can motivate individual professionals and facilities to improve their practices and treatment of prisoners. Filing a wrongful death claim is one way for grieving Michigan families to address the poor management of inmate mental health.