A federal lawsuit in Florida challenging the use of chemical agents such as pepper spray on severely mentally ill inmates has forced state Florida prison officials to reevaluate the practice amid an effort to eliminate an alleged ”culture of brutality” in the system, the Miami Herald reports. For years, lawyers for 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 State Prison inmates whom the Florida Department of Corrections itself acknowledges are mentally ill. The state is starting to acknowledge some of the problems via a new Medicaid program designed to divert more mentally ill prisoners to treatment facilities, the newspaper says, but inmate lawyers say more needs to be done.
”The minute the system admits it has mentally ill people who should be in in-patient care, it opens up a can of worms: The recognition that we’re just warehousing mentally ill people and even making them worse off,” said Leon Fresco, a lead attorney for Jeremiah Thomas. Thomas, a diagnosed schizophrenic, has been shuttled between one institution in which he receives medical care for his hallucinations, self-mutilation and other bizarre behavior, and a second in which he has repeatedly been gassed with pepper spray or Mace for acting mentally ill.