Political MoJo

There Are 10 Times More Mentally Ill People Behind Bars Than in State Hospitals

| Tue Apr. 8, 2014 3:00 AM PDT

Severe mental illnesses, like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, are brain diseases—biological conditions like heart disease or epilepsy. Yet in this country, the institutions most likely to be treating people with these illnesses are not hospitals, but rather jails and prisons.

According to a new report from the Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC), a nonprofit advocacy organization, the United States has fully returned to the 18th-century model of incarcerating the mentally ill in correctional institutions rather than treating them in health care facilities like any other sick people. In 2012, there were roughly 356,268 inmates with severe mental illnesses in prisons and jails, while only 35,000 people with the same diseases were in state psychiatric hospitals.

Chart: mentally ill hospitals vs prisons
Brett Brownell

The numbers of incarcerated mentally ill have been growing, and TAC reports that their treatment in the corrections system is nothing less than abominable. Mentally ill inmates are more likely to become the victims of sexual assault and abuse. They're also overrepresented in solitary confinement, and they are much more likely than other prisoners to commit suicide.

Putting the mentally ill in jails instead of hospitals isn't saving the government any money. In Washington state, for instance, in 2009, the most seriously mentally ill inmates cost more than $100,000 a year to confine, compared with $30,000 for others. One reason for the disparity: According to the report, mentally ill people tend to stay in jail longer than other prisoners because they aren't likely to get bail and also because they are often chronic rule-breakers. For example, according to the report, in Florida's Orange County jail most inmates stay an average of 26 days, but mentally ill inmates are there for 51 days on average. Even worse is New York's Rikers Island jail, where last month a homeless, mentally ill veteran, who'd been arrested for sleeping on the roof of a public housing project, "basically baked to death" in his cell. The average stay for an inmate at Rikers is 42 days. Mentally ill inmates get stuck there for an average of 215 days.

Map: more mentally ill in prisons
Brett Brownell

The costs of housing mentally ill inmates don't include the eventual lawsuit payouts when prisons and jails fail to treat them, and they get killed, assaulted, or hurt themselves—which seems to be happening more frequently. Last year, Mother Jones chronicled the story of Andre Thomas, a schizophrenic man on Texas's death row who gouged out his eye while in prison, and then later gouged out the other one and ate it. His story, horrific as it is, isn't especially rare.

The TAC report has a laundry list of horror stories of self-mutilation by mentally ill inmates, many of whom were in jail for minor offenses. Take the story of Florida jail inmate, Mark Kuzara, who cut open his abdomen in 2007. After it was stapled back together, Kuzara took out the staples with his mouth and ate them. "Inmates gave Kuzara pen caps, bolts, and paper that he would shove into the open wound. Kuzara also made himself vomit up meals, throwing up into the open wound," the Lakeland Ledger reported.

For the report, researchers surveyed sheriffs, police chiefs, and other corrections officials about the shift of the mentally ill from hospitals to prisons. They describe a horrific and unmanageable job of managing hundreds of mentally ill inmates cycling in and out of jail, taking up space and also getting sicker because of the lack of proper medical care.

One Mississippi deputy at the Hinds County detention center described his facility: "They howl all night long. If you're not used to it, you end up crazy yourself." An inmate in the jail "tore up a damn padded cell that's indestructible, and he ate the cover of the damn padded cell. We took his clothes and gave him a paper suit to wear and he ate that. When they fed him food in a Styrofoam container, he ate that. We had his stomach pumped six times, and he's been operated on twice.”

The failure to treat the mentally ill properly in hospitals is directly related to recent violent crimes. Take the case of Virginia, where the largest mental institution is the largest state prison and the state's jails hold three times more people with serious mental illnesses than the state hospitals do. The problem is so bad that in 2011, a Virginia Beach sheriff offered to transfer part of his jail budget to the mental-health system to try to get some of the sick people out of his institution and into proper care. Last year, the son of Virginia state Sen. Creigh Deeds (D) stabbed his father before killing himself. Barely 24 hours earlier, he'd seen mental-health professionals under an emergency custody order due to his deteriorating mental state, but he was released because no hospital beds were available.

Charts: mental health spending
Tim Luddy

The obvious solution is to create more hospital beds for treating the mentally ill, but the TAC recognizes that in the current political climate, this isn't going to happen any time soon. So they've offered some sensible interim recommendations. Among them is allowing jails and prison staff to treat mentally ill people with medication against their will. It sounds awful and in the context of a prison, potentially a tool for abuse, and TAC's recommendation is that involuntary medication should be heavily regulated. But many of the sickest mentally ill jail inmates don't recognize that they're sick, and thus, they're unable to seek the help they need to get better. Forcing medication to help people get better seems like a more reasonable alternative to letting them gouge their eyes out.

Another more creative solution is to expand the use of Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT), a court-ordered outpatient treatment that keeps people out of jail in the first place. AOT allows the mentally ill to live in the community—so long as they stay on their meds. Violating the court order can result in a participant's being involuntarily committed to a hospital. The results in some states have been promising. A pilot project in Nevada County, California, cut jail time for mentally ill people in the program from 521 days to 17; a North Carolina study of people in AOT found a reduction in arrests from 45 percent to 12 percent. These programs seem a lot more sane, and cost-effective, than putting every homeless person hearing voices in jail.

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Watch David Corn Discuss the Beef Between Rand Paul and Dick Cheney

Mon Apr. 7, 2014 5:49 PM PDT

David Corn joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss his latest scoop documenting Rand Paul's accusation that Dick Cheney pushed for the Iraq War so that Halliburton would profit.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

OkCupid's CEO Donated to an Anti-Gay Campaign Once, Too

| Mon Apr. 7, 2014 4:00 PM PDT
OkCupid co-founder Sam Yagan

Last week, the online dating site OkCupid switched up its homepage for Mozilla Firefox users. Upon opening the site, a message appeared encouraging members to curb their use of Firefox because the company's new CEO, Brendan Eich, allegedly opposes equality for gay couples—specifically, he donated $1000 to the campaign for the anti-gay Proposition 8 in 2008. "We've devoted the last ten years to bringing people—all people—together," the message read. "If individuals like Mr. Eich had their way, then roughly 8% of the relationships we've worked so hard to bring about would be illegal." The company's action went viral, and within a few days, Eich had resigned as CEO of Mozilla only weeks after taking up the post. On Thursday, OkCupid released a statement saying "We are pleased that OkCupid's boycott has brought tremendous awareness to the critical matter of equal rights for all individuals and partnerships."

But there's a hitch: OkCupid's co-founder and CEO Sam Yagan once donated to an anti-gay candidate. (Yagan is also CEO of Match.com.) Specifically, Yagan donated $500 to Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah) in 2004, reports Uncrunched. During his time as congressman from 1997 to 2009, Cannon voted for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, against a ban on sexual-orientation based job discrimination, and for prohibition of gay adoptions.

He's also voted for numerous anti-choice measures, earning a 0 percent rating from NARAL Pro Choice America. Among other measures, Cannon voted for laws prohibiting government from denying funds to medical facilities that withhold abortion information, stopping minors from crossing state lines to obtain an abortion, and banning family planning funding in US aid abroad. Cannon also earned a 7 percent rating from the ACLU for his poor civil rights voting record: He voted to amend FISA to allow warrant-less electronic surveillance, to allow NSA intelligence gathering without civil oversight, and to reauthorize the PATRIOT act.

Of course, it's been a decade since Yagan's donation to Cannon, and a decade or more since many of Cannon's votes on gay rights. It's possible that Cannon's opinions have shifted, or maybe his votes were more politics than ideology; a tactic by the Mormon Rep. to satisfy his Utah constituency. It's also quite possible that Yagan's politics have changed since 2004: He donated to Barack Obama's campaign in 2007 and 2008. Perhaps even Firefox's Eich has rethought LGBT equality since his 2008 donation. But OkCupid didn't include any such nuance in its take-down of Firefox. Combine that with the fact that the company helped force out one tech CEO for something its own CEO also did, and its action last week starts to look more like a PR stunt than an impassioned act of protest. (Mother Jones reached out to OkCupid for comment: We'll update this post if we receive a response.)

Update April 8, 2014, 12:30 p.m. PDT: OkCupid CEO Sam Yagan provided a statement to the SF Chronicle this morning clarifying the intentions behind his donation to Cannon and his stance on gay rights. Here it is in full:

A decade ago, I made a contribution to Representative Chris Cannon because he was the ranking Republican on the House subcommittee that oversaw the Internet and Intellectual Property, matters important to my business and our industry. I accept responsibility for not knowing where he stood on gay rights in particular; I unequivocally support marriage equality and I would not make that contribution again today.  However, a contribution made to a candidate with views on hundreds of issues has no equivalence to a contribution supporting Prop. 8, a single issue that has no purpose other than to affirmatively prohibit gay marriage, which I believe is a basic civil right.

An American Just Disappeared From a Prison in Yemen, and No One Will Say What Happened

| Mon Apr. 7, 2014 2:00 PM PDT
Sharif Mobley with his daughter

Sharif Mobley—an American accused by the US government of wanting to join Al Qaeda, and by the Yemeni government of shooting a prison guard—has disappeared from the Sana'a prison where he was being held, his lawyer, Cori Crider of the British charity Reprieve, said Monday. Crider believes the Yemeni secret police are holding Mobley in an undisclosed location, and has written to the US Embassy requesting the government's help. "We have not had any news of [Mobley] for 39 days, despite strenuous attempts to locate him," she wrote.

Mobley's is one of the forgotten stories of the war on terror. In early 2010, the New Jersey-born Muslim was living in Sana'a, Yemen's capital. He says he had moved there to study Arabic; US officials have told reporters that he planned to join Al Qaeda. Mobley was running errands one morning, he says, when he was kidnapped by Yemeni secret police, shot in the leg, and held incommunicado, tortured, and interrogated for weeks.

During this time, FBI agents visited and questioned Mobley, leading him to believe that the Yemeni government had arrested him and tortured him on behalf of the US government. (Documents Crider obtained through the Freedom of Information Act in 2012 proved that the US government was aware of Mobley's detention even as US officials were telling his wife they did not know where he was.) Eventually, Mobley tried to escape, and US and Yemeni officials say he shot and killed a guard in the process. He's been held in the Sana'a central prison ever since. His supporters believe that he was a victim of proxy detention—civil libertarians' term for the US government's practice of having allied countries detain suspects the United States doesn't want to arrest and detain itself.

Mobley disappeared sometime between February 27, when Crider's colleagues saw him there last, and March 22, when they visited the prison and discovered he was nowhere to be found. The timing is noteworthy for a couple reasons. The same week Mobley turned up missing, Kel McClanahan, an American lawyer who helped with Crider's FOIA, filed suit in federal court in Washington alleging that the FBI had hacked his emails after he obtained classified documents relating to the case.

Moreover, just before Mobley disappeared, Crider and her team were about to publicize a bevy of US government documents they obtained through FOIA. "I am certainly concerned that this is about someone trying to discourage embarrassing evidence from coming to light," she wrote in an email. "Why move him now? There have been security incidents in the centre of town, but that has been the case before. So all is very odd."

The big question now is whether the US had any connection to Mobley's latest disappearance. It's not so far-fetched. Consider the case of Abdulelah Haider Shaye, a Yemeni journalist who had been accused of associating with Al Qaeda because he had interviewed Anwar al-Awlaki, the now-dead American Al Qaeda propagandist. In February 2011, Yemen was set to release Shaye. But, as Jeremy Scahill reported in The Nation, President Barack Obama intervened personally to prevent Shaye's release. The journalist was held for another two years.

The State Department said it was aware of "reports" that Mobley had been moved but couldn't comment further out of concern for his privacy. A spokesman for the Yemeni embassy said he didn't know where Mobley was, but he'd check.

Update, Wednesday, April 9, 10:15 a.m. EST: Mohammed Albasha, a spokesman for the Yemeni embassy, said Wednesday morning that Mobley is now in the Sana'a central prison, where he was in February. Albasha wouldn't say whether Mobley had been taken elsewhere previously, but added that "legal counsel and relatives and family should coordinate with the US Embassy in Sana'a regarding other matters such as visitation."

Update 2, Wednesday, April 9, 2:00 p.m. EST: Tim Moore, a colleague of Crider's at Reprieve, sends the following statement:

We have yet to receive any official confirmation of the information which you reported from Mohammad al-Basha, regarding Sharif [Mobley]'s presence in the Central Prison. To the contrary, we received a second email from the [US] Embassy last night, in which the representative wrote “We have contacted all the possible locations where he could be held. We have received denials from everyone except the Ministry of the Interior who said they would get back to us. We are sending a diplomatic note out tomorrow and pressing to visit Mr. Mobley... I agree we should be getting official confirmations on his whereabouts and his situation. However none of the officials we contacted feel comfortable giving us a direct answer." So, from our side, we still very much believe Sharif to be out of contact.

You can read Crider's full exchanges with the embassy here and here. Crider said in an email Wednesday that if Mobley is now in the central prison, "they moved him back because of your article."

Here's the letter Crider sent to the US Embassy:

 

This GOP House Candidate Is Running for Office So His Daughter Won't Have to Learn About Evolution

| Mon Apr. 7, 2014 12:48 PM PDT
Congressional candidate Aaron Miller (R-Minn.)

Minnesota Republican congressional candidate Aaron Miller's gripe with Washington is personal. Speaking at the district convention on Saturday, Miller, an Iraq War vet who won the nomination to challenge four-term Democratic Rep. Tim Walz, explained that he was running for office in part to ensure that his daughter won't have to learn about evolution at her local public school. Per the Mankato Free Press:

He also called for more religious freedoms. He repeated his story about his daughter returning home from school because evolution was being taught in her class. He said the teacher admitted to not believing in the scientific theory to his daughter but told her that the government forced him to teach the lesson.

"We should decide what is taught in our schools, not Washington D.C.," Miller said.

Miller has declined to provide any more information to verify his story.

This isn't the first time Miller has recounted this tale—it's a staple of his stump speech. The comments were first flagged by Minnesota blogger Sally Jo Sorensen, who points out that Minnesota's biology standards are set by Minnesota, not DC. Miller has the endorsement of the district's 2012 GOP nominee Allen Quist, a longtime conservative activist in the state who wrote an educational curriculum supplement postulating that "people and stegosaurs were living at the same time."

The first district, which President Obama carried by a point in 2012, is one of just a handful of red-leaning congressional districts represented by Democrats. But Walz, who has been endorsed by the National Rifle Association, remains popular in the district. It probably doesn't hurt that the local GOP keeps nominating candidates like Quist and Miller, either.

Rutgers Athletic Director Wishes Critical Local Newspaper Would Die

| Mon Apr. 7, 2014 11:50 AM PDT

Rutgers University athletic director Julie Hermann told a journalism class that athletes at the school receive plenty of benefits and that it would be "great" if the Star-Ledger, the New Jersey newspaper that just laid off 167 staffers, would die completely, according to a report by Muckgers last week.

When a student in the class said the Star-Ledger might go under, Hermann responded, "That'd be great. I'm going to do all I can to not to give them a headline to keep them alive because I think I got them through the summer." The paper dedicated a great deal of coverage to Hermann after she replaced former AD Tim Pernetti, who resigned last year when it was revealed he allowed men's basketball coach Mike Rice to keep his job after being presented video evidence of Rice pelting his players with basketballs and shouting insults and gay slurs at them during practice. Hermann came with her own baggage—the women's volleyball team she coached at the University of Tennessee 17 years ago wrote a letter to the athletic department accusing her of "mental cruelty," including referring to athletes as "whores, alcoholics, and learning disabled."

Hermann has denied treating her players that way, and in a statement from Rutgers to the Star-Ledger, said she was just speaking to the class "in an informal way and out of the glare of the media spotlight" and "had no knowledge of the impending reorganization of the Star-Ledger." (Hermann's talk, which came before the most recent layoffs were announced, was recorded by a student in attendance.)

The classroom conversation also touched on the college athlete unionization movement. "What of those 1,000 institutions that sponsor college sports—who can sustain the kids unionizing?" Hermann asked the class. "Who can do that? Most of them are barely making it as it is." Hermann, it should be noted, has a base salary of $450,000. She went on to extol the benefits Rutgers athletes are already getting (especially now that that no one is throwing basketballs at them during practice, one assumes):

By the time we go recruit [a football player], sign him, bring him to campus, do all of their care, provide all of their medicine, all of their travel, all of their gear, all the things we've got to provide—by the time we're done with him, here at Rutgers, we've spent over half a million dollars on him minimum…so, technically, what we're providing for them is a value, it's about $100,000. How many of you are going to walk out of here and get jobs that pay you $100,000?

What's amazing is that Hermann's description of what Rutgers provides athletes is the exact legal argument that allowed Northwestern University football players the right to unionize. (Not to mention that one of players' largest grievances is that universities don't "do all of their care," since many health effects from playing football don't crop up until later in life.) And while many recent Rutgers grads may not be pulling in $100,000 salaries, their employers will be paying them in real money—not scholarships, shoulder pads, and concussion treatments.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 7, 2014

Mon Apr. 7, 2014 7:15 AM PDT

U.S. Army Pvt. David Bryant of the 3rd Squadron 71st Cavalry, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division mans his position behind his M249 Squad Automatic Weapon machine gun at Forward Operating Base Muqar during their mission to the Afghan National Army compound. The Spartans of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team are deployed to Afghanistan as a Security Force Advise Assist Brigade in support of Operating Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Army photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Javier Amador, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division Public Affairs)

March Jobs Report Shows a Spring Pick-Up

| Fri Apr. 4, 2014 9:04 AM PDT

The US economy added 192,000 jobs in March, according to new numbers released Friday by the Department of Labor (DoL). The unemployment rate remained steady at 6.7 percent.

The number of jobs created last month was an improvement on the more moderate job gains seen in recent months—113,000 in January, and 175,000 in February. And even those numbers were revised upwards in March by a total of 37,000 jobs.

There's more good news. Six years after the financial crisis, private employers have finally regained all the jobs lost during the recession, and then some. The private sector lost 8.8 million jobs during the economic slump, and has since hired 8.9 million.

The portion of Americans who either had jobs or were looking for jobs—this is called the labor force participation rate—ticked up to 63.2 percent after a half-million Americans began looking for work again last month. And the number of long-term unemployed—those Americans who have been jobless for 27 weeks or more—has fallen by 837,000 since last year.

Economists predict that the positive March jobs numbers mean that the Federal Reserve, the US central bank that sets monetary policy, will likely continue to pull back on the massive economic stimulus measures it put into effect in September 2012.

Now for the sour news. The number of jobs added to the economy last month was still fewer than many economists had expected. "Everybody who said 'ah we finally turned the corner, we're going to be booming like crazy'—I think they're going to have to hold off for a few months," Austan Goolsbee, President Barack Obama's former top economic adviser, said on CNBC Friday.

And the jobs gained last month are not necessarily good middle-class jobs. The professional services sector posted the largest gains in March, but of the 57,000 new jobs added, most were in temp work. Food services added 30,000 jobs. The healthcare sector took on 19,000 jobs, and construction added 19,000.

The disparities in unemployment by race changed little in March. The jobless rate was 5.8 percent for whites, 12.4 percent for blacks, 7.9 percent for Hispanics, and 5.4 percent for Asians.

This GOP House Candidate Proposed Eliminating the Weekend

| Fri Apr. 4, 2014 8:06 AM PDT

Update, 4/11: Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.) announced he wouldn't seek re-election, making state Sen. Glenn Grothman the odds-on favorite favorite to win the seat in November.

Wisconsonites tired of relaxing on weekends and staying home on federal holidays are in luck: On Thursday, GOP state Sen. Glenn Grothman announced his challenge to 18*-term moderate Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.). In a conservative district that went to Mitt Romney by seven points in 2012, Grothman hopes to channel dissatisfaction with Republicans in Congress whom he believes haven't done enough to slow down the Obama administration's policy agenda. But he comes with some baggage of his own.

In January, Grothman introduced legislation to eliminate a state requirement that workers get at least one day off per week. "Right now in Wisconsin, you're not supposed to work seven days in a row, which is a little ridiculous because all sorts of people want to work seven days a week," he told the Huffington Post. Eliminating days off is a long-running campaign from Grothman. Three years earlier, he argued that public employees should have to work on Martin Luther King Day. "Let's be honest, giving government employees off has nothing to do with honoring Martin Luther King Day and it's just about giving state employees another day off," he told the Wisconsin State Journal. It would be one thing if people were using their day off to do something productive, but Grothman said he would be "shocked if you can find anybody doing service."

MLK Day and "Saturday" aren't the only holidays Grothman opposes. At a town hall in 2013, he took on Kwanzaa, which he said "almost no black people today care about" and was being propped up by "white left-wingers who try to shove this down black people's throats in an effort to divide Americans."

When he's not advocating for people to spend more time working, Grothman has gotten in trouble for advocating that (some) people be paid less. "You could argue that money is more important for men," he told the Daily Beast's Michelle Goldberg, after pushing through a repeal of the state's equal pay bill. And he has pushed to pare back a program that provided free birth control, while floating a bill that would have labeled single parenthood, "a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect." Grothman justified the bill by contending that women choose to become single mothers and call their pregnancies "unplanned" only because it's what people want to hear. "I think people are trained to say that 'this is a surprise to me,' because there's still enough of a stigma that they're supposed to say this," he said in 2012.

Enjoy the weekend.

Correction: This post originally misstated the number of years Petri has been in Congress.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 4, 2014

Fri Apr. 4, 2014 7:12 AM PDT

U.S. Landing Craft Air Cushion lands to shore during training for Ssang Yong 14 at Dogue Beach, Pohang, South Korea, April 1, 2014. Exercise Ssang Yong is conducted annually in the Republic of Korea to enhance interoperability between U.S. and ROK forces by performing a full spectrum of amphibious operations while showcasing sea-based power projection in the Pacific. (U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Cpl. Sara A. Medina/Released)