A California man who attacked his girlfriend in January had been exhibiting symptoms of an emerging psychotic illness. He was held, briefly, in a psychiatric facility. Once sheriff’s deputies responded to the 911 call, he lost any chance of being treated in the mental health system. He would now be dealt with as a criminal, with catastrophic consequences, says the Los Angeles Times.
As the availability of acute inpatient services has diminished, rising numbers of the mentally ill are ending up behind bars. About 350,000 of the country’s 2.1 million inmates have been diagnosed with severe mental illness, said Dr. H. Richard Lamb of the Institute of Mental Health, Law, and Public Policy at USC’s Keck School of Medicine. Some mentally ill people find themselves diagnosed and treated for the first time after being incarcerated. But jails and prisons — never designed for therapeutic care — often trigger deeper crises, Lamb said. What happened in the case of the California man provides a stark illustration of just how wrong things can go. He is not only facing criminal charges and struggling with mental illness; he is also paralyzed from the mid-chest down, unable to walk, to dial a phone or hold a pen.