Posts tagged Houston

Thursday Morning News Clippings

To-day’s clipped stories, from the Opelika Auburn News (September 20, 2012).

  • Front Page. Nothing to clip here, actually. The biggest real estate is occupied by a story about how some super-millionaire said something in private that turned out to be aired in public that may or may not hurt his chances on the margin in his attempt to go from being one of the most massively privileged people in the entire world to the single most massively privileged person in the entire world. This may or may not help out the chances of his super-millionaire opponent to remain the most massively privileged person in the entire world, if it convinces more people that the super-millionaire challenger cares less about ordinary folks than the incumbent super-millionaire does. Somebody is supposed to care about this. I don’t: it couldn’t possibly matter less how much the most massively privileged person in the entire world cares, or who he or she cares about, because the existence of such massive, ruinous and lethal structures of social and economic privilege is exactly the problem, and it is the one problem which such debates over the less-worse of a pair of party-backed super-millionaires will never raise.

  • 2A. Donathan Prater, Bo’s nose: Auburn police get new K-9 tracker. A fairly typical police puff piece to announce that the police force occupying Auburn, Alabama has a new dog that they are going to use to hound people who are trying to get away from them, and to get or fabricate probable cause for harassing people suspected of nonviolent drug offenses.

    Bo has a nose for finding trouble. But in his line of work, that’s a good thing.[1]

    The Auburn Police Division welcomed Bo, an 11-month-old Belgian Malinois, to the force on Wednesday.

    Trained in both narcotics detection and human tracking, Bo was officially introduced to members of the media at Auburn Technology Park North.

    For years, we have called on (Lee County) Sheriff Jay Jones and (Opelika Police) Chief Thomas Mangham for use of their tracking K-9s, for which we’re thankful, but we felt like it was time for us to have our own, Auburn Police Chief Tommy Dawson. We’re very excited about putting this dog to work.

    … Dawson said Bo was purchased last month from the Alabama Canine Law Enforcement Officers Training Center in Northport with approximately $10,000 in seized assets from drug arrests.

    … The acquisition of Bo puts the APD’s number of K-9 officers at four, said Dawson, a former K-9 handler.

    — Donathan Prater, Bo’s nose: Auburn police get new K-9 tracker. Opelika-Auburn News, September 20, 2012. A2.

    Well, that’s a damn shame. The primary purpose that they will use Bo for, as they use all police dogs, will be to provide pretexts to justify what are essentially random sweeps, searches and seizures; to harass, intimidate and coerce innocent people on easily fabricated, often mistaken and incredibly thin probable cause, with the minutest of ritual gestures at a sort of farce on due process, in order to prosecute a Drug War that doesn’t need to be prosecuted and to imprison, disenfranchise, and ruin the lives of people who have done nothing at all that merits being imprisoned, disenfranchised, or having their lives ruined by tyrannical drug laws. It’s not the dog’s fault, of course; he looks like a perfectly nice dog. But the people who bought him (with the proceeds from their own search-n-seizure racket), and who are using him, are putting him to a violent and degrading use, and they ought to be ashamed of themselves.

  • Op-Ed Page, 4A. Muslim religion should be feared in US. Rudy Tidwell, of Valley, a God-and-Country fixture on the Op-Ed page, decides that he doesn’t like Church-State integrationists when they aren’t part of his favorite church. Then, by means of an insanely ambitious collectivism, he assimilates the actions of his least favorite hypercollectivists to the thoughts and feelings of literally all 1,600,000,000 (he rounds up to 2 billion) Muslims in the world.

    The phrase Arab Spring has become a catchphrase for the media and other liberals to minimize the real dangers of the actual enemy of America.[2] The so-called Arab Spring is actually a Muslim Spring, meaning that the growing takeovers we see in various Middle Eastern countries[3] are Muslims rising up worldwide.

    Why is this aspect of the Middle East unrest not recognized for what it is? The euphemism[4] made between so-called radical Muslims and peaceful Muslims. Islam is a dangerous body of more than 2 billion people who are determined to convert or kill, and there is no compromise to be made?

    It’s not just a few radical Muslims who make terrorist attacks. How then do you account for the fact that when the attacks on 9/11 occurred, Muslims around the world rejoiced and danced in the streets?

    More recent events in Libya and Egypt have been recognized as and declared to be planned attacks, not benign protests. Were all the people burning the embassies and tearing down and burning the American flags peace-loving Muslims?

    We have a growing number of Muslims in the United States. There are enclaves of Muslims who rule with rigid and brutal Shariah law. Dearborn, Mich, is perhaps the most notable. Muslims are entering the U.S. in numbers that would shock us if we knew the full extent.

    I encourage you to get a copy of the Quran and read it. It is a frightening book that demands faithfulness to its teachings to the point of death. It is the guide book for a worldwide takeover, not by reason and diplomacy as Communism said it would do over time,[5] but by conversion or death.

    Rudy Tidwell
    Valley

    Well, then. 2,000,000,000? Really? Did they all do the converting and killing and rejoicing and dancing all at once, or do they maybe take it in turns? Well I suppose the gigantic hive mind that they all link up to when they join that dangerous body no doubt ensures that such problems of coordination don’t really arise.

  • Op-Ed Page, 4A. Today in History.

    On Sept. 20, 1962, James Meredith, a black student, was blocked from enrolling at the University of Mississippi by Democratic Gov. Ross R. Barnett. (Meredith was later admitted.)

    . . .

    In 1884, the National Equal Rights Party was formed during a convention of suffragists in San Francisco.

    In 1958, Martin Luther King Jr. was seriously wounded during a book signing at a New York City department store when Izola Curry stabbed him in the chest. (Curry was later found mentally incompetent.)

    In 1973, in their so-called battle of the sexes, tennis star Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, at the Houston Astrodome.

    In 1996, President Bill Clinton announced that he was signing the Defense of Marriage Act, a bill outlawing same-sex marriages, but said it should not be used as an excuse for discrimination,[6] violence or intimidation against gays and lesbians.

    In 2011, repeal of the U.S. military’s 18-year-old don’t ask, don’t tell compromise took effect, allowing gay and lesbian service[7] members to serve[8] openly.

Section A contains no international news at all today, unless you count the collecto-eliminationist letter from Rudy Tidwell on the Op-Ed page.

  1. [1] [For whom? —R.G.]
  2. [2] [Sic. Of course what he means, as he makes clear, is the enemy of the United States government. Which is not true either, but in any case obviously not the same thing. —RG.]
  3. [3] [Sic. Of course all governments are usurpers, and thus are ongoing takeovers by nature. That includes transitional and revolutionary states; on the other hand it also obviously includes the hyperauthoritarian regimes recently challenged or thrown out. What the hell was the Mubarak regime, say, if not a constantly repeated, jackbooted takeover of innocent people’s lives? —RG.]
  4. [4] [Sic. What he describes is not a euphemism, but rather a distinction that he regards as being misapplied. —RG.]
  5. [5] [Rudy Tidwell is speaking outside of his area of expertise. —RG.]
  6. [6] [. . . —R.G.]
  7. [7] [Sic. —RG.]
  8. [8] [Sic. —RG.]

Tortured until proven innocent

Last year this article by Chris Vogel from the Houston Press won the Molly Award from the Texas Observer. It’s about teenagers locked in the Harris County (Houston), Texas jail system while awaiting a trial. They have not been convicted of any crime, or proven to pose a threat to any human being’s life or liberty; but if they are juveniles (14, 15, or 16 years old) who have been certified to be tried as adults, then they await their trial — often for over a year — in an isolation cage, with the lights on 24 hours a day, where they are held against their will apart from any human contact for 23 hours of every day. The 60 minutes they spend outside of the isolation torture cell is for recreation, where they are, very often, shackled. This is, of course, an extreme form of psychological torture. Like many of the most extreme forms of psychological torture, it is inflicted on kids who haven’t yet been convicted of any crime, but is inflicted on them For Their Own Good:

Harris County sheriff’s spokesman Lieutenant John Legg says the jail does not make special accommodations for juveniles.

They’re treated like any other inmate, he says.

Except for one glaring difference: isolation.

One reason for this, says Legg, is for their own safety. He says several years ago, teens were allowed into common areas with each other during the day, but they would fight and steal each other’s commissary items, so jail officials decided to keep them in their cells for a majority of the time. A choice, says Legg, which has had the desired result.

— Chris Vogel, For Their Own Good: Harris County juveniles certified as adults are jailed in isolation 23 hours a day—without being convicted of a crime, reprinted in the Texas Observer

The result desired by Lieutenant John Legg, no doubt. I wonder how much his prisoners desired the result of being tortured 23 hours a day for the sins of other prisoners they had no control over.

Like George, Diego [16 years old] says time drones on, blending into one seamless, never ending day. He is bored constantly. So bored, he says, that some days he can’t even concentrate to read. Occasionally, he catches himself talking to himself out loud. At times he’s thought he was hallucinating. Like many other teens in segregation, he’ll beat on his cell door and try to start a riot, sometimes because we didn’t get our full hour out of our cell and sometimes because there’s nothing else to do.

He says he can’t wait to turn 17 and get placed in with other inmates, or get convicted and go to prison, just so he can escape the isolation.

— Chris Vogel, For Their Own Good: Harris County juveniles certified as adults are jailed in isolation 23 hours a day—without being convicted of a crime, reprinted in the Texas Observer

Meanwhile, here’s Dennis McKnight, who used to do the same thing to presumed-innocent juveniles awaiting trial in Bexar County (San Antonio), on the trials and travails of jailing presumed-innocent teenagers:

To the adult jailors, though, it all comes down to a choice between the lesser of two evils: general population or segregation and isolation.

They shouldn’t be held in 23-hour lockdown, admits McKnight, but unfortunately that’s where we have to put them for their safety and for everyone else’s safety. It’s a trade-off that we are forced to make.

Well, no. It’s a trade-off that they force their prisoners to make. Or, more specifically, they make the trade and their prisoners are forced to take the goods. Even if they’d prefer being convicted if it just meant they could get out of the torture.

But I should be more sympathetic. It’s so hard, really, when you need a safe cage to lock all these presumptively innocent teenagers up in for years at a time.[1] Who knows where to put them all? Vogel quotes Liz Ryan of Youth Justice saying, It’s a Catch-22 … They don’t want the kid in isolation and they don’t want the kid in general population. They know it’s not safe either way. Well. I wonder if they’ve tried putting them, you know, not in prison?

  1. [1] It helps if you can revise the meaning of the word safe so that it includes things like being safely driven out of your mind over the course of years.

Friday Lazy Linking

Two cheers for police corruption

So there are a lot of cops who are involved, somehow or another, in the drug trade. Sometimes they sling the drugs themselves; often, they just protect drug dealers from arrest. Like any form of Prohibition, government Drug Prohibition creates a condition in which there are lots of black market operators who are willing to pay bribes, and lots of cops who are willing to take them, in order to keep the drug trade running without police interference. The cost of the bribe is a drain, but the profits from a well-run drug dealing outfit make up for it, and the cost of the bribe is less than the cost of getting locked up in prison for several years. In fact, the Drug War Chronicle runs a regular feature called This Week’s Corrupt Cop Stories, which I guess is intended to show how the conditions fostered by Drug Prohibition inevitably produce police corruption. A point which is pretty well conveyed just by the fact that they have plenty of stories to run every single week, as much as by any of the individual stories that they run.

But there’s a problem with the word corrupt. To become corrupt is to become impure, damaged, or worse. To be corrupt is to be doing something wrong — and when we apply it to people, it usually means that someone is bribed into doing something depraved in exchange for some form of material reward — most commonly violating personal or professional ethics in exchange for money. But protecting a drug dealer from arrest is only unethical if you have an ethical obligation to arrest drug dealers. If, on the other hand, Drug Prohibition is unjust — if enforcing drug laws means violating the rights and the freedoms of innocent people, often by locking nonviolent offenders in a cage for years at a time even though they violated nobody else’s rights — then cops have no ethical obligation to arrest drug dealers, because nobody has an ethical obligation to do an injustice to innocent people. Then a lot of what commonly gets called police corruption is really nothing of the sort; so-called corrupt cops may be turncoats in the Drug War, but they are turning from the wrong side to the right side. Those who protect drug dealers from arrest are no more dirty than cops in antebellum America who refused to turn fugitive slaves over to the slave-catchers, or cops in Nazi Germany who refused to turn hiding Jews over to the Gestapo.

Of course, someone who has to be bribed into doing the right thing may not deserve blame for what she does; but she probably doesn’t deserve praise either. And so-called corrupt cops may in fact do other things that do deserve blame. (Many, if not most, of the narcs or patrol cops who get involved in the drug trade do end up acting much like Terrence Richardson in Houston — that is, as thieves, thugs, or shake-down artists, using their police power or threats of violence in order to intimidate and coerce competing drug dealers who don’t have the same connections to the Gangsters in Blue. But here the problem isn’t that the cop is slinging drugs. The problem is that the cop is cracking skulls of other people who sling drugs, and getting the drugs he slings by stealing them from other drug dealers.) Hence the two cheers, rather than three. But then consider a case like that of Keenan Colson, a cop in Lake Wales, Florida:

Lake Wales police officer Keenan Colson, 50, was arrested Wednesday by the Polk County Sheriff’s Department on multiple charges stemming from information he leaked to 25-year-old Clayton Hoerler, a known criminal offender, including blowing the cover of an undercover cop, said LWPD Chief Herbert Gillis.

. . . Colson faces one count of conspiracy to engage in a pattern of racketeering action, five counts unlawful use of two-way communications device, and four counts unlawful use of computer access after he was tied to an investigation that ultimately netted 18 people arrested in conjunction with what was described by county law enforcers as a violent marijuana distribution ring.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd agreed with Gillis, noting in a phone interview Thursday that the blame rests solely on Colson and his actions.

It’s important to point out we don’t in any way suspect anyone other than Keenan Colson. We don’t want to leave any impression of that being anything other than an ethical police department. They run a great shop there. The men and women there are very dedicated. This is just one crooked cop, he said.

But it was one cop nobody seems to have expected to compromise the integrity and safety of his fellow police officers.

Colson’s actions sent shock waves throughout the LWPD.

Captain Patrick Quinn said he was hurt and shocked because he regarded Colson as the rock, a man who was always there, went to his calls, took his reports, was dependable.

Quinn, who was not involved in the investigation, was briefed about the situation on Tuesday.

Several people fall from grace, he said. That stinks, that hurts. We hire people, unfortunately people are going to do stupid things sometimes.

Quinn said Colson made a bad choice and was going to have to answer for his bad choice, but added that everyone in the department was upset.

We have lost a member of our family for his bad choice, he said.

What frustrated the chief so much is the concept that the lives of other officers were put in danger. Undercover work presents challenges of it own, he noted, calling it one of the most dangerous jobs in law enforcement because of its vulnerability.

And for Keenan Colson to identify to criminal offenders, this undercover officer, this undercover deputy, could have caused him to be killed, and could have caused the deputies that were working with him, the undercover officers to be injured, he said. That is something that will never be forgiven.

Gillis said Colson’s arrest was about justice for the police officers that are doing a good job every day. And it is those who trusted Colson that wonder what went awry with him.

Having had no prior indications to believe that Colson was capable of betraying his fellow officers, the chief described Colson as a very likable guy, very respectful, very quiet, very courteous.

How he got hooked up with a known criminal offender still stumps investigators, Gillis said.

Judd said he isn’t sure of the connection either, but said investigators did believe there was a prior relationship. In the late 1990s, Colson was an officer in Lake Hamilton, and Clayton Hoerler, identified as being one of the alleged ring leaders, apparently lived in Lake Hamilton at that time as well. Hoerler, 25, was identified this week by the county sheriff’s office as being a Lake Alfred resident.

We know from the investigation that they were good friends, Judd said. We know they discussed criminal activity freely, and that Colson give him intricate instructions in how to avoid arrest and how to protect himself from covert investigation. He was certainly the consultant for Hoerler.

— Kathy Leigh Berkowitz, The Polk County Democrat (2008-08-18): Lake Wales Police Officer Arrested for Leaking Information

If that’s what Keenan Colson did, then good for Keenan Colson.

The Drug War is an aggressive war by the government against innocent people. Neither using marijuana, nor selling marijuana violates anybody else’s rights. Like all so-called victimless crimes, it is in fact not a crime at all in any moral sense; crimes have identifiable victims, and consensual exchanges between willing parties have none. Cops who use force to shut down drug dealing outfits — and that is the only way that cops shut anything down, by beating people, tasering them, pepper-spraying them, pulling guns on them, restraining them, handcuffing them, confining them in police cars and holding cells, and ultimately by having them locked up in cages for years at a time, all of it backed up by the threat of inflicting pain, injuring you, or killing you if you should resist their orders — those cops, I say, are using violence against peaceful people; they are hurting, restraining, and imprisoning people who have never violated the rights of any identifiable victim. If they come after your friends on the basis of these unjust drug laws, then, morally speaking, they are the criminals, and using your connections and your knowledge of the system in order to defend your friend and his livelihood from their aggression — by telling him how to avoid detection, by telling him how to keep from getting unjustly arrested, and by exposing the undercover police spies who have been sent to infiltrate his circle and facilitate the narcs’ efforts to seize innocent people and locking them in cages for the next several years, is not corrupt. It’s certainly not an unforgivable sin. That’s protecting the innocent, and doing so while putting yourself at considerable personal risk from the same uniformed gang that you are trying to protect your friend from. It is, in fact heroic, and Keenan Colson deserves the title of hero far more than the vast majority of the arrogant, preening, entitled cops who never stop hollering about their own heroics and the protection they inflict on unwilling recipients every day.

Meanwhile, the police chief in Lake Wales has decided to engage in a low form of farce:

If your officers do commit criminal acts, they need to be arrested just like anyone else, the chief said. A lot of times things may be handled where people may be just terminated or let go. That’s not the way you are supposed to do things, that’s why I told the officers around here hold your heads up. We’ve been through a lot, we’ve been in the paper a lot with our officers who have done stuff wrong.

We are going to hold offenders accountable, because we hold our people accountable. To me that is a good thing because we hold ourselves accountable first, we hold offenders accountable second. And that’s a position you want to be in law enforcement, that’s accountability, that’s integrity, he added.

— Kathy Leigh Berkowitz, The Polk County Democrat (2008-08-18): Lake Wales Police Officer Arrested for Leaking Information

That’s bullshit, is what that is.

When cops harass, unjustly imprison, beat, hurt, torture, rape, or kill the people that they contemptuously dismiss as civilians, there isn’t a damn bit of accountability. They may be transferred to another precinct; they may be given a paid vacation for a few months before fellow cops exonerate them in administrative hearing for a few months; in really extraordinary circumstances, where evidence of guilt is undeniable and has also, by the way, been reeased to the public, someone might actually lose their job over it. But they will almost certainly never face jail time, or any criminal responsibility whatsoever, for what they do. As the victim, you might, if you are very lucky, get an Oops, our bad; realistically, what you’re more likely to get is Fuck you, civilian.

The reason that Keenan Colson has been arrested and is now threatened with jail has exactly nothing to do with any general commitment by the police force to accountability or integrity. The unforgivable sin for which he is being arrested and prosecuted is the fact that he gave out information that messed with the game of the other cops who were coming after his friend. Cops protect their power, and they’ll do just about anything to anybody who endangers that by valuing the safety of a friend over the ability of his gang brothers to go on with their activities unimpeded. Keenan Colson is only the latest to get the long knife treatment for the unforgivable sin of acting like a responsible human being at the expense of gang loyalty. He won’t be the last.

(Via Drug War Chronicle 2008-08-29 and Drug War Chronicle 2008-08-22.)

Texas psychoprisons

Trigger warning. The news report I discuss includes verbal descriptions of sexual exploitation and extreme violence by caretakers against male and female patients under their control. It may be triggering for past experiences of violence.

In the past, when I’ve written about violence committed by government police officers or prison guards, I’ve often written something like this:

Please note that if you or I or anyone else without a badge and a gun acted like this, the people around us would more or less universally conclude that we’re belligerent and dangerous lunatics. In fact, if you or I or anyone else without a badge and a gun acted like this, and it was caught on camera, we would soon be in jail for on a charge of assault and battery. When someone with a badge and a gun acts like this, and it’s caught on camera, with a very few exceptions, the worst that ever happens is that they might get fired. The most common response from the powers that be is either to do nothing at all, or else to give the pig a paid vacation and a verbal reprimand.

— GT 2008-02-18: Cops are here to protect you.

That’s a point that I stand by, and that I think is vitally important. But one thing you’ve got to remember when thinking about that point is that the class of government-privileged cops and prison guards is larger than the obvious cases you might first think of when asked. Badges and guns come in a lot of shapes and sizes and prisons can be found in a lot of places. Sometimes the badge is a gold shield and the prison is a penitentiary surrounded by razor-wire and high fences. Sometimes the badge is a white coat, the gun is a syringe, and the prison is the locked mental ward of a hospital. What matters is not the external form, but the underlying relationship of power, and when so-called caretakers have the legal power to restrain, confine, hold down, drug, shock, spy on, and otherwise coerce or violate a so-called patient, to treat her against her will, to force her to remain in a locked room even if she wants to leave, and to chase her down and force her back into that locked room if she tries to slip out without permission, then those so-called caretakers function as a jailers, and their hospital as a prison, no less than the corrections officers and correctional facilities of the official State prison system.

This is, by the way, a basic point that needs to be made, and needs to be accepted, whether or not one accepts presuppositions of institutional psychiatry, and whether or not one accepts the common practices of involuntary civil commitment, the imprisonment of criminals deemed legally insane in State-run psychoprisons, drugging patients through the use of force or deception, etc. etc. etc. If you accept those presuppositions and you support imprisoning and forcibly drugging people who, for example, try to hurt (only) themselves, or who have hallucinations, or who steadfastly cling to beliefs that the majority of people consider irrational, then you should go ahead and defend that. But that is what you need to defend—imprisonment and coercive force—not some sentimentalized helping professions myth in which caretakers are helping willing patients through a disease just like cancer or diabetes. If you have cancer and diabetes, and you decide (for whatever reason) that you’d rather suffer or even die from it than undergo the conventional treatments, nobody has the legal power to force those treatments on you against your will. And therein lies one of the fundamental political differences between real doctor-patient relationships and psychiatry as it is practiced today. If you want to try to defend psychiatry as it’s practiced today, that difference—the fact of psychiatric imprisonment—is something you’ll have to admit, and where you’ll have to start.

And for those of us who have spent some time watching how the official State prisons and their prison guards work, and who know that the pervasive violence and domination that runs through the system, even when it is judged excessive or abusive by the powers that be, should be dismissed as Yet Another Isolated Incident carried out by A Few More Bad Apples, but rather recognized as the natural and inevitable result of the kind of environment fostered by the unaccountable power of government enforcers—well, for those of us, things like the Dallas Morning News’s recent report on intense, pervasive abuse of patients in Texas’s state psychoprisons should be an outrage, but (heart-breakingly) not at all a surprise:

Last year, one [Texas] state mental hospital employee tackled an adolescent patient who was sobbing for his mother, dragging him across the floor by his wrists and hair.

The year before, another brought a female patient into a hospital bathroom and sexually abused her.

And dozens more have participated in brutal beatings at the psychiatric hospitals since 2005, employee disciplinary reports show – using chokeholds, headlocks and threats of violence to restrain the patients under their watch.

In all, 72 employees across Texas’ 10 state mental hospitals have been fired in the last three years for allegations of physical abuse, according to a Dallas Morning News analysis of state personnel records. Hundreds more have been terminated for other violations, the records show, from sleeping on the job to over-medicating mentally ill patients.

. . . Among the allegations of abuse and neglect state hospital workers have been fired for since 2005:

  • A worker at the North Texas State Hospital slammed a clipboard on a patient’s head, dragged her by her feet and kicked her in the legs and buttocks.

  • An employee at the Big Spring State Hospital failed to notice a patient who knotted her sheet and strung it around her neck. The patient was blue by the time staff found her.

  • At the Austin State Hospital, a male employee brought a female patient into a private room for her to carry out a sexual act on him.

  • An employee at the Austin hospital tackled a juvenile patient and pinned the patient’s neck and head to the floor, bloodying his lips and face and breaking his glasses.

Other employees were punished for offensive treatment, from using racial slurs on patients to making verbal threats and sexual advances. Some ignored patients’ cries for help while they watched TV, played video games and wrote text messages. Others stole state property and sold tobacco products to patients.

. . .

Jason Evans called 911 in November during a bipolar meltdown and was admitted to the Terrell State Hospital. Days later, the 34-year-old was dead – and his parents still don’t know why.

State officials told the Kaufman couple that their son, who was severely mentally ill but in good physical condition, had been disruptive that evening, and records obtained by the family indicate hospital workers medicated him before sending him to sleep. Mr. Evans was apparently found hours later in his bed, and was no longer breathing.

Lynn Evans, his mother, said psychiatric hospital workers attributed the death to natural causes, and doctors said her son had lost oxygen to the brain. But she and Mr. Evans’ father, a pharmacist, have been unable to get specific details about their son’s death. They believe Jason was effectively overdosed by hospital workers trying to restrain him.

It was a disease. Jason couldn’t help it, said Mrs. Evans, choking back sobs. In my heart, I will go to my grave knowing that hospital killed him.

Mr. McBride said that the agency is prohibited from confirming the identities of anyone in their care – but that any unexpected deaths are investigated by the Department of Family and Protective Services or by local law enforcement.

There were no deaths among Terrell State Hospital patients last fall from anything other than natural causes, he said.

— Emily Ramshaw, Dallas Morning News (2008-05-04): Reports show systemic abuse at Texas’ psychiatric hospitals

And anyone who has followed the official response to past prison abuse scandals (cf. GT 2008-02-21: Mississippi Corrections, GT 2008-02-05: Rapists in uniform, GT 2007-10-28: Corrections officers, etc.) should be outraged, but not at all surprised, by the fact that state Mental Health officials have responded to the threatening, neglecting, assaulting, raping, and torturing of imprisoned patients in the usual way that prison bosses respond. That, when the administrators are forced to admit that abuses have happened, the individual psychoprison guards are usually administratively disciplined, or at worst fired, rather than arrested or sued like the violent criminals that they are. That, when asked, the official mouthpieces of the mental health prison system reply by lying, covering up, whitewashing, isolating, or minimizing the extent of the violence against patients, by making excuses for the perpetrators, and by telling a bunch of sob-stories about the hard luck of supposed trained professionals who are expected to actually do their tough job without hurting people.

State officials say there will always be some reports of abuse and neglect in an institutional setting. And they say they take any allegations of mistreatment seriously. But the records show that as in other state-run facilities, abuse and neglect are systemic.

. . .

The state’s juvenile prisons, group homes for the disabled, and state schools for people with mental disabilities all came under fire last year for reports of widespread physical and sexual abuse.

. . .

Officials with the Department of State Health Services, the agency that runs the psychiatric hospitals, say abuse and neglect are absolutely not pervasive – and verified cases are actually dropping.

In the last two years, they confirmed 15 Class I cases – the most serious abuse. On average, investigators substantiate 5 percent of the more than 2,000 allegations they examine annually. And 90 percent of patient deaths since 2005 were attributed to natural causes, agency spokesman Doug McBride said. Five were suicides, and none were the result of abuse.

Keep in mind there are about 7,400 employees, 18,000 patient admissions and probably hundreds of thousands of staff-patient interactions in a year, Mr. McBride said.

State officials acknowledge that the psychiatric hospitals are stressful environments; there are times, Mr. McBride said, when employees do not handle a situation appropriately. But they say the rules for reporting abuse and neglect are stringent – and confirmed cases of physical and sexual abuse are reported to police.

And they balk at the suggestion that conditions bear a resemblance to the state schools for people with mental disabilities, where the U.S. Justice Department has intervened twice in recent years.

The state psychiatric hospitals, which have about 2,500 patients daily, had 137 confirmed abuse cases in 2007. The state schools for people with disabilities, which have twice as many residents, have an average of 300 confirmed abuse cases per year.

But some advocates fear the mentally ill patients may face greater risks. Patients of the psychiatric hospitals are largely indigent, transient and not connected to their families, so they have few allies as they bounce through the mental health system.

It’s a population that’s easy to abuse because they’re not on the radar in any way, said Richard Hansen, a Texas mental health advocate who was chemically restrained, shackled and beaten to the point of broken ribs years ago while suffering from bipolar disorder in a New York mental hospital.

. . . Mr. Hansen said many employees are conscientious, but conditions vary from hospital to hospital and ward to ward. Some are simply warehouses, where patients are often overmedicated and ignored. In others, patients frequently turn up with unexplained injuries, he said.

— Emily Ramshaw, Dallas Morning News (2008-05-04): Reports show systemic abuse at Texas’ psychiatric hospitals

Besides the fact that it is just a lie to claim that a problem that has involved hundreds of employees in the last three years alone is somehow absolutely not pervasive, one of the most important factors simply goes unmentioned here — that it is really, really easy to get away with far more violence and abuse than crops up in verified official reports, simply because guards tend to stick together against any allegations made by inmates, and because they can act with an incredible amount of impunity when officials will never trust a victim’s testimony, and will happily wave it off, whenever it’s convenient to do so, as the product—literally—of feeble-mindedness or insanity. No wonder that 5% (and dropping) of the 2,000 abuse allegations filed every year end up getting verified by the officials.

And, to cap it all, no matter how bad and how widespread the abuse may get, the administrators can always count on the pro-establishment wing of their supposed critics to go to the public and to the legislature to beg for even more tax money and even more prison guards to be sent into the psychiatric prison system, so that the very people who created these maddening prison-ward hellholes can be rewarded for their institutionalized violence by being allowed to take even more money from taxpayers to go on doing the same old thing:

The state psychiatric hospitals, like other systems for vulnerable Texans, are chronically starved for cash, advocates of more state funding say, and services at the local level can’t keep up.

. . .

You get what you pay for, said Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, who has bipolar disorder. When you financially dumb something down, you make services cheap, something’s got to give. Unfortunately, it usually ends up being a mentally ill or disabled Texan.

. . .

Aaryce Hayes, a mental health policy specialist with Advocacy Inc., said the Department of State Health Services is working to improve the state hospital system, from incorporating trauma-informed treatment into care regimens to increasing employee empathy training. It is also trying to reduce reliance on restraint and seclusion to keep control of patients.

They get it, she said. They want to see a culture change.

But it’s hard to improve when the state hospital system is so overburdened, Ms. Hayes said. Right now, the state funds just 27 percent of mental health needs in the community – meaning everyone else rotates in and out of crisis care. There are more than 450,000 adult Texans with serious and persistent mental illness, everything from schizophrenia to major depression, Ms. Hayes said.

If we said we were serving just 27 percent of people who had cancer, or diabetes, nobody would be comfortable with that, Ms. Hayes said.

Money is a persistent problem. In 2003, lawmakers stripped $100 million from the state’s mental health budget, Mr. Coleman said – funding that has only partially been replaced.

The Legislature approved $82 million last year to improve community mental health crisis services, said Robin Peyson, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ Texas chapter. But Texas ranks 48th in the country in per capita funding for people with mental illness, so that money only begins to address the shortfall.

There are not services at the community level and there are not enough beds in the system, she said. If you have inadequate funding, you’re just supporting this cycle, this revolving wheel.

— Emily Ramshaw, Dallas Morning News (2008-05-04): Reports show systemic abuse at Texas’ psychiatric hospitals

The reality is that what is needed is not more money, or more guards, or better training, or even a culture change. A culture change would be a step forward, but the real solution that is needed is something that goes far deeper: a solution that strikes at the root from which that culture and these conditions grow. What is really needed is a power change, so that psychiatric wards are no longer artificially packed by court order, so that patients can leave and seek help through other means if conditions become unbearable, and so that supposed patients are no longer treated against their will and held down at the mercy of their helper-captors. If you make a hospital into a prison camp, then it should be no surprise when the hospital caregivers start acting like prison camp guards. The only thing to do — the only thing you can do that will not just recreate the same problem in a superficially different form — is to respect the will of patients, to treat violence against them as a real crime worthy of punishment, to repeal the laws that privilege and protect their captors, and to break open the doors and tear off the straitjackets that hold them back from living their lives as human beings, rather than as objects of pity and coercion.

Free the Texas 2,500!

Free all psychiatric prisoners!

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