Ex-NC Prison Psychologist Assails Mental Health Care

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In a scathing report to North Carolina lawmakers, a retired prison psychologist contends that the state’s efforts to reform mental health for inmates has instead squandered millions of tax dollars while endangering inmates and prison workers, the Charlotte Observer reports. Psychologist John Schwade maintains that money allocated for mental health reform in 2015 “has not been spent as promised.” He says many of the inmates who most desperately need treatment aren’t getting it. State prison leaders disputed Schwade’s conclusions, saying they have done much to improve care for those with mental illness. “His allegations and conclusions are based largely on conjecture, opinion and untruths,” said Gary Junker, the prisons’ director of behavioral health.

Others who advocate for inmates say that while prison leaders have improved mental health care, far more action is needed. Elizabeth Forbes said her criminal justice reform group NC CURE has received almost 300 letters from mentally ill inmates in three years complaining of problems with their treatment. Some have had to wait months to see a psychologist, she said, while many others have lost access to the medications they need. Prison leaders announced plans to reform mental health care after the 2014 death of Michael Kerr, a mentally ill inmate who died of thirst after spending days lying unresponsive in his cell. In 2015, then-Gov. Pat McCrory asked the legislature for $24 million over two years to improve care of prisoners with mental illness. He got half that.

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