by Cathy Mendonca
In San Diego, community activists have been fighting against the proposals to a 792 bed facility expansion to Donovan State Prison for people with disabilities and mental health needs.
Imprisoning individuals with disabilities and who are mentally ill is not only a consequence of inadequate treatment and rehabilitation in the community but is also a result of the systemic prejudice these individuals in our society face.
Beginning in schools with the failure to develop and implement appropriate behavior plans or provide the necessary accommodations, discipline policies and punitive measures such as zero tolerance is often utilized in response to disability-related behavior, pushing students with disabilities out of the classroom and into the criminal justice system at alarming rates.
The same parallels can be drawn when examining how police and prison officials expect the same instant compliance to their commands. Police are often the first called to respond to medical psychiatric emergencies. If they do not receive compliance to their commands, they resort to a physical confrontation, often with brutal force.
For prison officials, failure to comply is often followed by discipline actions such as solitary confinement. Numerous studies have documented the effects of solitary confinement on prisoners and the devastating psychological and physical effects of prolonged confinement, causing prisoners significant mental harm and places them at grave risk of even more devastating future psychological harm.
With suicide being the third leading cause of death in U.S. state and federal prisons, exceeded only by natural causes and AIDS, prisons are proven Ill-equipped to handle a prisoner’s current physical or mental condition and is a contributing factor to the digression of ones own mental health and physical well being..
Money should be allocated to programs promoting interdependence for the disabled and mentally ill to thrive within the community. It is not a crime to be physically disabled or to have a mental illness.
Prisons are not the answer to the treatment of these individuals.
United Against Terror San Diego and disabilities rights activist.