See my many articles about the problems, and rampant injustice, caused by warehousing our mentally ill in prisons. This is the painfully well documented account of a young man named Tyler, who languished for 48 months in prison before getting the court-ordered mental health evaluation. It also relates the judge’s preposterous ruling that there was “good cause” for the delay, so typical of officials who do not want to acknowledge the serious problems in our prions – heads in the sand.
The delay is one form of abuse. The manifest total neglect and inept – harmful – treatment of the mentally ill in Delaware D O C, which I have SEEN, is another.
You think about how you spend your hard-earned money, except at tax time. You just pay it. Well, you should demand some value for that money: the neglect of the mentally ill in America costs YOU, the taxpayer, about $444 Billion each year!
Excerpts from the Article:
On Nov. 17, 2012, Tyler Haire was arrested in Vardaman, Mississippi, for attacking his father’s girlfriend with a knife. Tyler, 16, had called 911 himself, and when they arrived, the local police found him seated quietly on a tree stump outside the home on County Road 433. The boy alternately said he could remember nothing and that they had the wrong man.
Tyler was taken to the county jail in Pittsboro, 12 miles away, where the sheriff, worried that the awkward and overweight boy might hurt himself or be targeted by other inmates, placed him in a cell used for solitary confinement. Tyler had turned 17 by the time, five months later, a grand jury indicted him for aggravated assault, and his case went before a judge. Tyler’s defense lawyer, appointed by the court, informed the judge in a court filing that his attempts at speaking with the boy had made it apparent the 17-year-old did not have “sufficient mental capacity” to understand the charge he was facing. The lawyer wanted Tyler to undergo a psychiatric examination. He listed the many reasons why that was appropriate: During his childhood, Tyler had been found to be suffering from seven different mental disorders, the first diagnosis coming when he was just four years old; he had threatened to bomb his school; he had chased his two siblings with a knife trying to stab them; his family suspected that he’d strangled a cat to death with his bare hands; he’d been hospitalized on several occasions and later placed in a home for troubled boys.
The local prosecutor joined the defense lawyer’s request for an evaluation, and Judge John A. Gregory immediately signed an order to have Tyler assessed at the state hospital in Whitfield to determine if Tyler had a factual and rational understanding of the legal proceeding against him, as well as whether, at the time of the non-fatal assault, he knew the “difference between right and wrong.”
“It is therefore ordered and adjudged,” Gregory wrote on April 23, 2013, “that the defendant Tyler Douglas Haire be given a mental evaluation at the earliest possible date.”
Tyler’s evaluation would not happen for three and a half years.
During the 1,266 days Tyler spent in the Calhoun County jail before he received his evaluation, he was never once visited by a psychiatrist. He went without any of the multiple drugs he had taken as a boy. He received no educational instruction. His father, who’d had his own brushes with the law, had friends of his in jail with Tyler give the boy a beating for the trouble he’d caused his family. His mother came to see him when she could afford the gas money. Once Tyler was found naked in the woods after he ran off during a stint on a work detail.
The sheriff and his deputies spent hours with Tyler, discussing television shows and listening to Tyler vent about the voices he heard. The officers took turns putting $25 a week in Tyler’s commissary account, and in return he’d color them pictures of dragons and aliens.
As Tyler celebrated his 18th, 19th and 20th birthdays in the jail, the sheriff, Greg Pollan, served as the young man’s only vigilant advocate. Every month, Pollan called the state hospital in Whitfield for an update on where Tyler stood on the waiting list for one of the 15 beds in the hospital’s forensic unit, which handled psychiatric evaluations in criminal cases. He taped a note to the corner of his office computer: “Call Whitfield.” Pollan was optimistic when told Tyler was No. 3 on the list, only to be told in his next call, without explanation, that Tyler was now No. 10.
On Jan. 13, 2014, the state hospital said it should be able to admit Tyler “in two weeks,” according to a note in Tyler’s case file. It would take another two and a half years.
Tyler didn’t fall through any cracks. Mississippi didn’t lose track of him. A review of available records suggests that Mississippi may well have the worst record of any state for prolonged stays in jail for inmates awaiting the most basic psychiatric evaluation.
A copy of the state’s wait list shows that as of August 2017, 102 defendants — accused, but not yet convicted, of various crimes — were waiting in county jails for forensic evaluations. One had waited 1,249 days, another 1,173 days, still another 879.
The struggle to evaluate defendants who may be mentally ill isn’t just a Mississippi problem. In response to a 2014 survey by the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, 31 of 40 states said wait times for forensic services for criminal defendants were worsening and 19 said they’d been threatened with legal action or found in contempt of court for long delays.
In Pittsboro, Tyler was a puzzle and a pain for his jailers during his nearly four years as an inmate. He’d scream and throw tantrums, and then, exhausted, ask to be put into solitary — “in the hole,” as the inmates called the single cell. He’d sleep the entire time. At other times, he said he had visions of aliens and heard voices that told him to do things — what shows to watch on TV, or what time to get up in the morning.
But the men who ran the jail also were struck by Tyler’s fastidiousness. His cell was always tidy and he even cleaned up after other inmates. Tyler liked to pull his mattress from his bunk out into one of the jail’s common areas, so he could lay out and watch TV. He loved Tom and Jerry cartoons the best. The sheriff still smiles at the memory of watching one of the jail monitors one night, and briefly becoming alarmed when he saw Tyler looming behind his jail administrator, nicknamed Sarge. Turned out, Tyler was just massaging Sarge’s shoulders.
Mississippi law requires that a criminal defendant be brought to trial within 270 days of arraignment unless a “good cause” excuse is shown. Over and over again, judges accepted forensic evaluation delays as a “good cause” for not meeting the 270-day requirement. In December 2015, three years into Tyler’s incarceration, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled on the case of a man convicted of aggravated assault whose pretrial delay was 1,099 days. In that case, Rowsey v. Mississippi, the court found much of the delay was a result of “the substantial amount of time it took to schedule a mental evaluation,” and accepted that as a “good cause” for why the trial didn’t happen sooner.
Phone calls and emails come in to Building 43 at Whitfield all the time. From lawyers, sheriffs, family members of inmates. They all ask the same thing, with varying degrees of frustration and desperation: When’s a bed opening up?
Forensic evaluations in Mississippi are broken into two parts — exams meant to determine sanity and competency.
The question of sanity involves a person’s state of mind at the time of the alleged crime. If the defendant didn’t understand right from wrong at the time of the crime or if they were delusional enough to think they were acting in self-defense or perhaps thought that instead of shooting a family member with a gun, they were shooting an alien with laser, they would not be considered sane at the time of the crime.
The issue of competency deals with whether a defendant can comprehend what’s going on in the present moment. Do they understand the charges they are facing? Do they know the role of the judge, the defense lawyer, the prosecutor? Can they help their attorney? If a defendant is found incompetent, they are sent off to the state hospital for what is known as competency restoration. Such “restoration” can involve medication, therapy or education. Severe mental illness, developmental disability or a low IQ can affect one’s competency. If the restoration doesn’t work, then a defendant is deemed non-restorable and subsequently committed back to a hospital.
Tyler was taken to Whitfield, where officials say he was evaluated over 32 days in Building 43 and where he received lessons on the workings of the court. The inmates in Building 43 live inside metal-barred cells on either side of a fluorescent-lit hallway. The cell doors are locked with room to slide food underneath. Each cell is secured by an individual padlock. Photos taken by staff show paint peeling throughout the building, mold on the windows in the visitor’s lobby and water damage to a cafeteria ceiling. The building for years has outraged legislators and advocates.
“We should be ashamed as a society for what happens at the forensic unit,” said Jay Hughes, a state representative. “First and foremost you’re locking them in cells that are 100 years old, no fire protection system, no sprinkler system, walls of stone and floors of stone, and a no centralized locking. It is a gauntlet. Little rooms probably six by nine. The only opening into the room is the door which is your classic iron jail door. Steel bars. Then they have hatches you just put a padlock through. That’s it. It’s archaic and pitiful.”
The report declared both that Tyler had been sane at the time of the stabbing four years earlier and that he was competent to stand trial. The report acknowledged Tyler’s long history of psychiatric diagnoses and treatment, but found that he had a rational as well as “factual” understanding of the proceedings against him. He could describe the basics of a plea bargain. He understood the concept of guilt or innocence. It noted he had been prescribed a variety of psychotropic medications during his childhood, but said none had ever been effective.
Christopher Holland, the jail guard Tyler liked to call Sunshine, was floored when word came back that Tyler had been found competent. “No, they missed it,” Holland remembers saying to himself. “They missed it.”
It had taken Mississippi authorities nearly 48 months to give Tyler a mental health evaluation. It took mere hours for the authorities to gain his conviction.
Three days after Whitfield officials filed their report, Tyler was in court before a judge. But the judge was not Andy Howorth, the senior judge who had been in all those meetings with Pollan, the prosecutor and Tyler’s lawyer.
Tyler and his lawyer had decided to have him plead guilty to a crime that, by statute, carried a maximum of 20 years in state prison. Prosecutors had agreed to cut the sentence to seven years, crediting Tyler with the years he’d spent in jail. Papers had been prepared. Tyler had signed his by printing his name.
Today Tyler continues to serve his sentence in the Jefferson-Franklin County Correctional Facility, a regional jail that houses state inmates. A state corrections official said such facilities do not provide substantial mental health care. Tyler’s release date is not fixed, but could be as soon as late 2018.
Tyler said to this day he doesn’t truly understand the details of his case. He did not recognize the term “Alford plea.” His rationale for taking the deal, he said, was “it was seven years, and seven’s less than 20.”
“Of course,” Howorth said, “I worry that this is what I’m participating in — the warehousing of the mentally ill.”