Jeremiah Thomas was known among Florida prison guards as a ”frequent flier” for the way the schizophrenic killer bounced back and forth between two lockups, says the Miami Herald. In one prison, he got medical care for his hallucinations, self-mutilation and other bizarre behavior. In the other, he was repeatedly gassed with pepper spray, tear gas or Mace for acting like a mentally ill person, yelling or refusing to comply with orders. Thomas and other mentally ill inmates have sued in federal court to end what they say is an unconstitutionally cruel and unusual practice of using ”chemical agents” on Florida inmates the state acknowledges are mentally ill.
The state maintains that the hemical agents are a necessary and relatively safe control tool to prevent a rowdy inmate from undermining authority and inciting a prison-wing lockdown. Rreported uses of force on inmates are declining on the watch of new state prisons chief Jim McDonough. The case could expose the need for far more mental health-treatment beds in the Florida State Prison in Starke as well as the entire prison system, which has as many as 16,000 potentially mentally ill inmates out of a population of 95,000. In the short term, the case seeks to stop spraying mentally ill inmates at the prison in Starke without the supervision of a mental-health expert. ”It is like a mentally ill musical chairs where there are 1,100 or so inmates that can use a bed, but only 350 beds,” said an attorney for prisoners.