(WSVN) - Inmates with serious mental illness are suffering needlessly. That was the blunt assessment of a mental health expert who spent time inside some South Florida jails. Now, one agency is making changes. Brian Entin has an update to a 7Investigation.
It’s a disturbing incident we first reported last month: an inmate inside a Broward jail cut off his penis using a blade from this shaving razor.
The man was found standing at his jail cell door, saying: “I have a real medical emergency. I just cut my penis off and flushed it down the toilet. I have no need for it anymore.”
The day after our story aired, we got an unexpected voicemail.
Inmate (in voicemail): “I was recently incarcerated at the Broward County main jail, where I removed my penis.”
The 32-year-old said he was Baker Acted, saw our story and was calling us from the hospital.
He wanted to discuss conditions inside the jail.
Inmate (in voicemail): “I have experienced several more acts against my humanity by not giving me medications I need and continuing to lock me in small rooms by myself, which is killing me.”
At the time he brutally cut himself, the man had been in solitary confinement for nearly five months.
The incident is just one example of inmates hurting themselves while locked in isolation in the Broward County Jail over the years.
Now, 7News has learned the Broward Sheriff’s Office has agreed to do something about the problem.
As part of a settlement in a federal lawsuit finalized last week, BSO must ensure mentally ill inmates:
- Are assessed by medical staff within 24 hours of being placed in solitary confinement.
- Have individualized treatment plans.
- Are not punished for behavior caused by their mental illness.
- And if they can not be treated inside the jail, staff is required to use their “best efforts” to transfer inmates to a psychiatric facility.
Solving mental illness issues in jails stretches all the way to Tallahassee. A South Florida lawmaker is introducing a bill that would end solitary confinement behind bars.
Gary Farmer, state senator: “Solitary confinement itself exacerbates mental illnesses in most cases.”
U.S. State Senator Gary Farmer’s bill would prohibit the use of solitary confinement and allow inmates to be isolated only in extreme cases.
The Broward lawmaker said the goal is to keep inmates from cycling back into the system once they’re released and that locking them away alone does not help.
Gary Farmer: “We have 10,000 prisoners in Florida right now in solitary confinement. That’s about 10% of our overall prison population. The national average is under 5%, so we seem to be a little bit too prone to use solitary confinement as just get rid of the problem, put them in a room, and we don’t have to worry about it anymore.”
State Sen. Farmer’s bill still needs more support and has a long-shot to make it into law this year.
As for the required changes in Broward jails, BSO turned down 7News’ interview request to discuss them.
The agency has 180 days to fully implement the improvements.
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