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Texas mentally-ill prisoners suffer needless deaths

A University of Texas study highlights the need for changes inside the Texas prison system when dealing with the mentally ill. While many mental conditions, like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, are chemical imbalances that require medication, prisoners with these types of disorders are treated with total apathy—if not active hostility by guards who view them as problem prisoners.

It's estimated that 14.5 percent of men and 31 percent of women in U.S. jails suffer from some form of mental disorder. Not only are their needs often unmet, they're subjected to an environment full of triggers and ongoing violence that can worsen their condition.

In some facilities, prescription medications for mental disorders can be withheld and solitary confinement can be used liberally. All of these things can make a patient with a mental illness far sicker than when they were first incarcerated.

The study focused on ten inmate deaths that were utterly preventable, had the inmates simply been given the medication necessary to treat their conditions and some basic safety protocols adopted to prevent suicidal actions.

Other investigations have shown that suicidal prisoners may fare the worst. Those who are recognized as suicidal may be subjected to inhumane treatment like being tied to a chair for 18 hours without relief. More often than not, they're simply ignored. A total of 135 inmates in Texas have killed themselves since 2010—and many of those told their jailers that they had a serious mental illness or previous suicide attempts, yet they went without being monitored.

It's important to understand that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice is not immune from accountability for the wrongful death of a prisoner on the basis that he or she was denied essential medical care, including medication. There are several different things that might give you a cause of action:

—the victim was forced to go through abrupt an medication withdrawal that should have been weaned slowly to prevent serious physical or psychological reactions

—the victim was denied his or her prescribed psychiatric medications, causing his or her condition to worsen and leading to his or her suicide

—the prison's failure to recognize and monitor a prisoner who is a suicide risk

Don't assume that there's nothing you can do about what happened to your loved one if he or she died while incarcerated. Families have a right to take action over the wrongful death of their loved ones.

Source:, "Mental health services lacking in Texas jails, UT study finds," Chuck Lindell, Nov. 23, 2016

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Brian Jensen

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