Letter: Reforms needed in treatment of mentally ill

The current situation regarding the treatment of the severely mentally ill in our parish is woeful and, despite many caring people, our children continue to die in East Baton Rouge Parish Prison from lack of appropriate medical treatment.

Many problems stem from cuts in the state budget and the closures and/or cutbacks are well known. But that is not the only problem. There are two issues that can be addressed immediately that can, perhaps, save the life of someone’s child.

I am not a mental health professional or a lawyer, but my opinions are based on the experiences I had with my son ... over 15 years and at least 18 incarcerations. He died in EBR Parish Prison in 2013 at age 41.

  • Step No. 1: Immediate identification.

I guarantee you it doesn’t take medical or law enforcement training to identify someone in a psychotic meltdown. You would recognize it (and probably never forget it) and the condition should be completely obvious to a trained professional.

Additionally, virtually all severely mentally ill people have long histories of mental health issues, as well as a history with law enforcement and mental health services.

A simple check of the individual’s history with law enforcement’s own records and/or a call to the Capital Area Human Services District would reveal that history. Outreach calls to next of kin also would help.

  • Step No. 2: Immediate protective custody orders.

To the best of my knowledge, my son was never given medication to control his psychosis during his 13 days in the EBR Parish Prison.

David was placed in a restraint chair because it was the opinion of prison personnel and their legal advisers that state law prevents administering medications to any inmate in the prison without his consent.

I have not been able to find the law on which this belief is based. Below is an exceprt from a study of state laws conducted jointly by the Treatment Advocacy Center and the National Sheriff’s Association, dated April, 2014.

“State law governs the administration of non-emergency treatment of prison inmates. An inmate (in Louisiana) who refuses treatment may be medicated over objection for no more than 15 days if a physician or psychiatrist certifies that treatment is necessary to prevent harm or injury to the inmate or to others. If treatment for a longer period is deemed necessary, a petition must be filed with the court. Treatment shall continue while the hearing is pending. The inmate may continue to be medicated over objection if the patient is not competent.”

While other issues concerning the longer-term care of the severely mentally ill must also be addressed, adoption of these two proposals might have prevented the death of Jeremy Hillard, a severely mentally ill 23-year old who was arrested Monday, April 7, and died in EBR Parish Prison on Thursday, April 10.

Bill O’Quin

Internet publisher

Baton Rouge