NBC Miami is reporting that the Florida Department of Corrections has announced ‘sweeping changes’ to the state’s treatment of mentally ill prisoners. The reforms come after the horrific murder of Darren Rainey: a developmentally disabled man who died after prison guards locked him in a scalding hot shower.
Among the changes are: expanded training for officers to deal with emergencies; specific centers where inmates can get specialized counseling for life after incarceration; and a pilot program with the Department of Children and Families to bring in their expertise as well.
In my opinion, the the most important part of this package is the post-prison counseling. For former prisoners with intensive medical needs, knowing how to care for themselves (or how to seek out and receive care from others) is a major issue.
Because so many prisoners in America are poor and healthcare in our country is by-and-large a privilege and not a right, the prison healthcare system is often an inmate’s first exposure to care. On the inside, this treatment is completely managed by staff and prisoners play virtually no role in the process. This forced ignorance can make life after prison very difficult for those with medical needs.
But seeing as the incarceration and mistreatment of the those with mental disorders is a systemic problem that begins long before a person enters prison, my real question is: which of these reforms would have actually prevented Rainey’s murder? And should Rainey have been in prison in the first place?
Florida has one of the highest incarceration rates in the nation and is struggling to house a growing number of people with mental health issues in its facilities. I guess it’s nice to see the DoC feel the heat and react with changes to the system, but state lawmakers should also take responsibility for the plight of mentally ill inmates and consider diverting them away from prisons and into rehabilitative programs.