Colorado’s mentally ill cycle in and out of jails, prisons

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — They miss medication doses, sinking further into mental illness as their symptoms take hold.

They try to kill themselves and sometimes succeed.

They lash out at staff and fellow inmates in the thick of mental breakdowns, at constant risk of prolongation their sentences.

Mentally ill people are wasting away in Colorado jails and situation the state’s prisons, paving the way for disasters by making punitory workers de-facto practitioners in what critics say is possibly the worst possible environment to treat psychiatric issues.

The faulty system is so “starved for care” that it keeps those who need help sport from captivity to the streets and back to clinker blocks and steel parallel parallel bars, aforementioned John percoid fish, executive director of the national nonprofit Treatment advocacy Center.

“You have prison guards who are not medical professionals who are entirely at their wit’s end,” percoid fish aforementioned. “And you have tragedies, over and over once once again, that could be easily averted if you were providing mental health care.”

The ensuant dysfunction comes at a high cost to remunerators. Penal institutions face security risks and threats of multi-million dollar suits as they continue a system that mental health advocates and criminal justice experts compare to contemporary warehousing.

“Instead of keeping people in mental institutions, we’re keeping them in jails and prisons,” aforementioned Boulder County law officer Joe Pelle, a vocal critic of a criminal justice system that’s become a “last resort” for people with mental illness. “Our jail is the largest inmate mental health facility in Boulder County. It’s not supposed to be.”

In the decades since the “deinstitutionalization” movement unsuccessful to shift mental health care from immense, state-run mental asylums and into communities, punitory facilities have become default mental health care institutions in Colorado and crosswise the country. Yet, even as this hellish situation has become the norm, few solutions have emerged.

Data provided to The Gazette by the El Paso County law officer’s Office and the Colorado Department of Corrections show that:

Last year, about third of the more than 22,500 inmates engaged into the El Paso County jail according having mental health issues during psychiatric assessments. Nearly 6,300 of them had “mental health alerts,” flagging them as suicide risks or noting a mental health diagnosis or history.

Suicide bar resources

  • Colorado Crisis Line: 1-844-493-8255, Chat online or text TALK to 38255.
  • Mental Health First Aid: Get trained to recognize the signs and how to respond.
  • American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: Join one of their approaching walks for awareness in Colorado.
  • Crisis Text Line: Text 741741 from anyplace in the nation to reach a counselor.
  • Second Wind Fund: golf golf links students to mental health professionals and pays for up to 12 guidance sessions.

Today, one out of every three men captive in Colorado — and four out of every five women inmates — say they have some type of moderate to critical mental health need, according to the Colorado Department of Corrections. The number of inmates with mental health inevitably in Colorado’s prisons has steady up in the past two decades, from about 4,500 in 1998 to about 10,700 last year.

More than 300 of the state’s prison inmates have tried to complete suicide from the beginning of 2014 through the end of 2018. 34 people killed themselves. some other 62 people incarcerated at the El Paso County jail unsuccessful to take their own lives, but none were successful.

“What the system does to everyone involved — it’s deimmenseating, really,” aforementioned Stephanie Gangemi, the jail’s former mental health care director. “It’s trauma, day in and day out.”

High stake for mentally ill inmates

In the six months that Mikolaj Warszawski spent in solitary confinement at the El Paso County jail last year, his grandmother feared that his zombie-like mental illness was worsening.

Georgianna Warszawski worried that Mikolaj was being pushed around “like a rag doll” by fellow inmates and punitory officers. His mental illness has made him an easy target — a 12-year-old in a 27-year-old’s body, she aforementioned.

She awful, too, that he might be driven to kill himself.

“When person is mentally ill, you worry, ‘They could die in here,'” aforementioned Georgianna Warszawski, showing off photos of her offspring as a child — before schizophrenic disorder, bipolar disorder and other mental health problems overtook him as a adolescent, triggering a pattern of arrests and suffering.

When mental health diagnoses go unattended at the El Paso County jail, the consequences can be dire.

Last year, an inmate doubly tried to commit suicide by jumping off the top of a bunk bed after she went without her anti-psychotic medication, her mother told The Gazette. A Colorado Springs man lost part of his leg to gangrene when a dog bite he suffered during his arrest festered piece he was in the haze of mental illness.

It’s difficult for officials to accurately gauge exactly what percentage of the jail’s inmates have mental health problems because the law officer’s Office relies on them to self-report the issues.

A past detention bureau chief estimated in 2017 that 60% to 75% of the inmates in the overcrowded facility had some sort of mental health issue.

Often, a trip to jail starts with anarchical symptoms.

A frenzied state may drive irrational and unsafe behavior. mental illness may give way to a violent outburst at an authority figure who’s trying to help.

“The majority of individuals with mental health issues who end up in jail — if they did not have the mental illness, they wouldn’t be in the system,” aforementioned Gina Shimeall, a Colorado criminal defense attorney who serves on a legislative task force focused on mentally ill people in the criminal justice system.

Once in jail, people with mental health issues often stay there for longer. They wrack up extra charges when crucial mental health inevitably go self-addressed, fueling aggressive or irrational behavior.

And in the militant environment of a punitory facility, there’s no room for error, Shimeall aforementioned.

“You follow rules, you don’t cross the line — that’s how jails are run to keep people safe,” she aforementioned. “When you have person who is psychotic, those don’t register . It’s not that they don’t follow the rules. They’re not able to follow the rules.”

The pitiless cycle

For Mikolaj, a downward spiral often begins when he forgoes his prescribed medication for recreational drugs, his grandmother aforementioned.

“He gets out on the streets, and people take advantage of him,” Georgianna aforementioned.

It’s a common story, advocates say.

People with mental health issues might not receive any attention for their conditions when they’re behind parallel parallel bars, aforementioned Vincent Atchity, executive director of the Denver-area nonprofit The Equitas Project, devoted to “disentangling mental health and criminal justice.”

And when the mentally ill are discharged from punitory facilities, they’re not connected with the resources they need to become more stable, Atchity aforementioned.

Instead, they often resort to getting high or drunk. The count to their next arrest begins.

“They end up sport in and out of jail repeatedly, at great cost to the community, without any fruitful outcome, because the health care is not there,” Atchity aforementioned.

Mikolaj’s mental health problems have been exacerbated by a riotous family life. He lost one of his brothers to a gunman in a Walmart storus and his father to a heroin overdose.

Mental illness runs in the family, Georgianna aforementioned.

One confrontation with government began when his grandmother called the police in 2016 when he was experiencing a mental episode. He allegedly hurled a rock through a police station window, and was smitten by a car piece fleeing on a scooter, according to an arrest testimony.

Later, he punched an officer and spit on a nurse at an area hospital, the testimony states.

The breakdown resulted in charges including two counts of crime assault and one count of crime criminal mischief.

More charges came in April 2018.

Police found him toting what appeared to be an orange and green shotgun at the Fountain Creek Nature Center with a glass pipe full of methamphetamine complex complex in his pocket, according to some other arrest testimony.

The gun was a toy, he aforementioned.

Once in jail, he grew more psychotic.

Mikolaj, who has since been discharged, recalled his “bad years” in an interview with The Gazette — the ones he spent sob, missing his family, perpetually looking over his shoulder and pacing his cell.

He torus up the daily letters that Georgianna wrote him, flushing the garbage down the toilet. He was afraid person would read them, he aforementioned.

He made threats and neglected deputies’ orders, law officer’s Office interpreter Jacqueline Kirby aforementioned in an email.

Cells were afloat, mattresses destroyed and emergency buttons bustn as his “riotous behavior” intense, Kirby aforementioned.

He was no longer allowed to speak to his family after he was affected to solitary confinement, where he spent six months alone in a cell for 23 hours a day.

By then, Georgianna was able to reap little from the conversations they had during visitation.

He wasn’t making sense, she aforementioned.

Going unmedicated

Providing person who’s incarcerated their prescribed medications often becomes a struggle, defense attorneys and criminal justice experts say.

Concerned family members often make phone call after phone call to punitory facilities, only to be referred to some other staff member, asked to jump through some other official hoop, or blocked in the name of patient confidentiality.

It can be even more of a challenge if a family member doesn’t have a current prescription, or if the medical staff is limited to a formulary of specific medications, Shimeall aforementioned.

Meanpiece, the loved ones they’re trying to reach wrestle with unbridled symptoms.

El Paso County jail’s inmate medical contractor, Miami-based Armor punitory Health employment, declined to arrange an interview with the facility’s current mental health director. Instead, a public dealings representative asked The Gazette to submit a list of questions and provided a written response.

More than 150 inmates in the El Paso County jail had been best-known as “chronically mentally ill patients” as of the first quarter of 2019. About a quarter of those patients were on psychotropic medications in February, according to a statement from jail Mental Health Director Tanya Belknap.

She noted the figures are “not all-encompassing.”

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If person who is engaged into the jail says they are taking medications for a mental health condition and intake staff can verify the prescription, the person is then regular to see a provider, she aforementioned.

But the jail’s medical team often face obstacles in administering medication, Belknap aforementioned.

State law prohibits staff from forcibly medicating an inmate — even if the inmate’s symptoms have made them a danger to themselves or others, she aforementioned.

For those who enter the jail with severe substance abuse issues, the medical team’s first priority is to help them detox and avoid withdrawal symptoms, Belknap aforementioned. Any mental health inevitably that those inmates report come second.

When tragedies become legal battles

Travis Bickford thought his married woman, Jacqueline, would be safer at the Summit County jail than at home after she was in remission in April 2016.

She adorned herself with a bedsheet at the facility five years later.

The 31-year-old mother had vulnerable to commit suicide and repeatedly asked jail staff for her prescribed antidepressants, according to a federal suit that her family has filed once once against the Summit County sheriff.

In addition to paying the high cost to provide health care for mentally ill inmates, governments often face some other hefty expense: Legal settlements.

These claims often arise when “terrible property” happen in facilities that lack adequate resources and staff, aforementioned Nastassia Walsh, who manages a National Association of Counties initiative that aims to reduce the number of people with mental illness in jails.

Jacqueline Bickford’s death came as the mental health issues she’d experienced since she was seven were worsening with bouts of postpartum depression, her husband aforementioned.

But he couldn’t get her a bed at a local inmate treatment program. So he didn’t pay her $1,000 bond.

She was in remission on suspicion of child abuse and neglect after she was found halfway conscious at their Breckenridge apartment.

Her blood alcohol level was more than .35 — roughly four times the legal threshold for being charged with driving under the influence in Colorado– and her baby son was nearby.

“The whole system failing her, entirely. The mental health system, the jail system — they failing me and they failing her son,” Travis aforementioned.

El Paso County, too, has paid for mishaps that have occurred when people with mental health problems are in its custody.

A $675,000 payout from the county’s insurance company — the largest on county record books — went to a woman who was in the thick of a mental health crisis when prison guards ripped her staying power out from under her and forced her to a cell floor in 2014.

Philippa McCully’s ACL was torn, her knee fractured and her body bruised all over.

The takedown happened just after the then Colorado College junior was in remission for erratic behavior that her attorneys blame on the mix of psychiatric drugs she was prescribed for depression and anxiety.

In 2017, the county in agreement to a $15,000 payout after an inmate claimed she was nearly clogged to death in a 4th Judicial District Courthouse holding cell by a woman who was mentally ill.

Ryan Partridge sued Boulder County law officer Pelle after he ripped his eyeballs from his head in the thick of a mental illness-induced rage piece being held at the county jail in 2016.

Partridge, who is now blind, besides bust his back when he unsuccessful suicide by jumping head-first from the jail’s top tier, alleges the suit, unfinished in U.S. District Court in Denver.

But the agonising claims that make it to court are only a small window into the widespread dysfunction that occurs when people with mental illness are in punitory facilities, Denver civil rights attorney David Lane aforementioned.

“The cases that get filed are cases ensuant in extreme outcomes, like Ryan Partridge,” aforementioned Lane, who represents Partridge. “Most people who are psychotic don’t even understand that they need to reach out and ask for help.”

The new asylums

When America affected to “de-institutionalize” mental health care and shutter primitive psychiatric hospitals in the sixties and seventies, the intention was a positive one: To get people with mental illness the treatment they needed piece allowing them to live in the community.

But the funding to support the transformation never followed, advocates say.

Instead, remunerator dollars have bankrolled the construction of jails and prisons, and people with mental illness have increasingly found themselves lost in the criminal justice system.

Now, Colorado’s prison system has evolved to match a mental health care institution.

The number of inmates with mental health problems in state prisons has steady up since the late nineties, according to information from the Department of Corrections.

In 1998, nearly fourth of the state’s roughly 19,300 inmates had mental health inevitably. Last year, about 40% of the roughly 29,000 people captive in Colorado had mental health inevitably.

That rise is likely due to social change in attitudes that’s made people more acceptive of seeking help for mental health problems, Department of Corrections Deputy Executive Director Kellie Wasko aforementioned.

“Fifty years ago, it was not socially acceptable to say that you had mental illness or to say that you were hearing voices,” Wasko aforementioned.

But advocates blame a lack of treatment options, from a shortage of state hospital beds to a dearth of other facilities and programs that would allow people with mental illness to recover in the community.

Instead, the mentally ill people are at bay in a system that’s incapable of delivering the long-term care that galore of them need, aforementioned Maureen Cain, legislative and policy director for the Colorado State Public Defender’s Office.

“We keep people in the criminal justice system to get treatment because there isn’t the right treatment in the community,” Cain aforementioned.

A challenge for punitory staff

In the El Paso County jail’s mental health ward for women, moods can change quickly — especially if inmates are refusing to take the medication that’s apportioned to them by the jail’s medical staff, Deputy Billie Mahan aforementioned.

But Mahan knows these women, she aforementioned.

She can help avert mental health episodes which might drive them to hurl their food trays, bang on cell doors or strip off all their clothes.

“You just have to learn your inmates. That’s the nice part about me being in that particular ward. I know what helps them, and I know what property can trigger them to have a bad day.”

In the jail’s mental health wards, prison guards use “de-escalation” tactics daily, Sgt. kid Seiter aforementioned.

Typically, it starts with a conversation.

Handcuffs, restraint chairs, and other uses of force are a last resort, he aforementioned.

Seiter often works in a maximum security ward, where one prison guard is untypically responsible for observation about 30 inmates, galore of whom have mental health issues.

They wear “safety smocks” that can’t be designed into a noose.

“That, at the end of the day, can be very mentally challenging, very mentally exhausting — when you’re the person in there and you’re dealing with 80 other different personalities. But we do it,” aforementioned Seiter, who works 10-hour shifts, like all of the jail’s floor security personnel.

An estimated 85% of the 535 sworn staff members of the sheriff’s detention and patrol bureaus have taken an eight-hour Mental Health First Aid training course, meant to help law social control officers better understand and respond to signs of mental illness, aforementioned Kirby, the law officer’s Office interpreter.

Armor’s mental health staff includes six full-time behavioral health professionals who are counselors or social workers.

Those best-known as having a mental illness during an initial health screening are referred to the mental health team, according to Belknap, the jail’s mental health director. Patients can besides ask for therapeutic employment by submitting an electronic request. Anyone with pressing medication inevitably is seen the same day, she aforementioned.

But multiple family members of former jail inmates have claimed that requests for vital psychiatric medication have gone neglected for years, weeks, even months at the jail.

Falling victim

In the years after he was in remission for indiscriminately killing an Air Force veteran in August 2016, Timothy Hagins attacked a nurse and two El Paso County law officer’s deputies.

The schizophrenic, who turned violent after going off his medications, was ordered to serve an indefinite commitment at the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo after a judge found that he was lawfully insane at the time of the killing and ensuant attacks.

His case illustrates the risk that mentally ill inmates can pose to corrections workers.

But, as experts point out, people with mental health problems are often exploited by other inmates or staff members in a jail or prison setting.

Mikolaj Warszawski has aforementioned he was brutally familiar by jail staff in March 2015.

The alleged takedown came shortly after he was in remission on suspicion of two misdemeanor counts that have since been dismissed.

He was taken into custody after he became “verbally belligerent” at the county’s detox facility, spit in a staff member’s face and punched a wall, according to an arrest testimony.

Once in jail, he was “hit all over” and “slammed to the ground” galore times, he wrote in a complaint to the law officer’s Office.

He told the prison guards that he was mentally ill, but they continued to beat him, he according.

The law officer’s Office has denied the allegations. law officer’s interpreter Kirby aforementioned in an email that the accusations, including the claims of injuries, are “entirely false.”

Georgianna Warszawski keeps Mikolaj’s complaint and other documents particularisation the incident at the family business, “Kash’s Gems” thrift storus on Platte Avenue. She recently spread the work on a counter for a Gazette reporter to examine.

Mikolaj’s ACL and a band of cartilage in his knee had snapped, an orthopedic doctor complete in medical records. He needed reconstruction surgery.

The incident left him with bruises covering most of his body and “strains and sprains” in his shoulders, elbows, wrists, knees and spine, a healer who examined him wrote in some other report.

The law officer’s Office reviewed police work footage and documentation from the incident as part of an internal investigation, according to a November 2015 letter responding to his complaint.

But command staff complete none of the jail’s policies or procedures were violated.

The force used by deputies “was some reasonable and proper,” a sheriff’s inspector wrote in the letter.

Data have shown that deputies at the jail often use force on mentally ill inmates.

From January 2015 to April 2016, jail staff used force about 280 times in the intake and release section, from handcuffing to hit or kicking an inmate, according to a law officer’s Office report.

Nearly 130 of those inmates had a mental health issue based on a mental health assessment, the report states.

No open beds

Mikolaj Warszawski spent months at the jail last year awaiting a spot at the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo.

There wasn’t a bed open for him when a judge ordered that he undergo competency restoration employment at the hospital until he was deemed mentally fit to stand trial.

Hundreds of other people with mental illness have been left to suffer in Colorado jails due to the shortage of state hospital beds.

They go without medication and treatment, often “getting worse and worse,” aforementioned Terri Hurst, policy organizer for the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition.

Denver-based nonprofit disability Law Colorado sued the state in 2012 over the plight of these inmates, who have been found mentally incompetent and often face minor, nonviolent charges.

Under a watershed agreement announced in March, the Colorado Department of Human employment pledged to hire new clinicians, tighten certain treatment deadlines and shift care for galore criminal defendants from state psychiatric hospitals to community-based programs. If it doesn’t, the state could face fines of up to $10 million a year — a new measure to ensure the state keeps its promises after it bust the terms of two previous settlements in the yearslong legal battle.

A bill that Gov. Jared Polis is expected to shortly sign will help implement galore of the provisions of that agreement. Patients will be admitted to the Pueblo hospital based on need, rather than the order in which they were legal to complete restoration employment, aforementioned disability Law Colorado Legal employment Director Alison Butler. The measure besides requires that the Colorado Department of Human employment provide funding to jails for mental health care employment, including medication, Butler aforementioned.

Under some other bill that Polis is poised to sign, the state’s human employment department will have five years to strengthen a safety net to help people with severe behavioral health disorders get the employment they need in the community and avoid involvement in the criminal justice system, she aforementioned.

Since the beginning of October 2018, some criminal defendants have waited up to 186 years for a bed at the Pueblo hospital or some other competency restoration program at Arapahoe County jail, according to information that disability Law Colorado obtained from the state.

As of March 7, defendants in 150 cases comprehensive were awaiting competency restoration employment, including 25 defendants in El Paso County, the information show. Some of those defendants have more than one case.

Mikolaj Warszawski was returned to the El Paso County jail in March after a three-month stay at the Pueblo hospital. He is now taking four different types of medication that were prescribed to him at the psychiatric facility.

“I feel stable,” he told The Gazette.

He was discharged from jail on a personal recognizance bond, or a written promise to appear in court, in April.

The struggles of release

Jackie often hears her 23-year-old schizophrenic son pacing like a captive animal on the carpeted floor of their Colorado Springs home.

He picked up the nervous habit in recent years during stints at the El Paso County jail, where the voices in his head intense.

Without his medication, he became more and more paranoid. He felt safer on suicide watch, where he wasn’t so much an easy target for his fellow inmates, who often bullied him and forced him to give away his meals, she aforementioned.

“He represented it as being like posttraumatic stress disorder when he got out. It was chaotic, it was crazy, it was never calm,” Jackie aforementioned. She declined to give her last name or her son’s name, citing concerns about identity theft and revenge by law social control and others in the criminal justice system. The story of Jackie’s son was corroborated by court records.

When people with mental illness get out of jail, they often have to navigate complex bureaucracies to find counselors and psychiatrists, seek disability and medical benefits and access other employment to help them stay out.

And, without a caring friend or partner or family member, they’re on their own.

It’s a flaw in the criminal justice system that helps “feed the pipeline to jails and prisons,” aforementioned Nancy VanDeMark, interim president and CEO of Mental Health Colorado and former director of the state’s Office of behavioral Health.

Jackie aforementioned her son had no prior criminal record before he was in remission on suspicion of harassment and disorderly conduct in 2015. Since then, he’s faced crime drug charges and more than a six misdemeanor counts.

But Jackie wants to help him break the cycle, so she spends hours each week doing what she can to help him.

She schedules doctor’s appointments and takes him to therapy.

She registers him for programs that will help him get his GED sheepskin and kick his substance abuse habit.

She helps him recognize what’s real and what isn’t when the voices get louder.

“If you don’t have person to advocate for you here in Colorado Springs, you have nothing,” she aforementioned.


Information from: The Gazette,