The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Virginia Jail Lets Mentally Ill Man Die in Custody

Oct 12, 2015

A 24-year-old man arrested in Portsmouth, Virginia, was found dead in his cell after spending four months behind bars. Jamycheal Mitchell stopped taking his medication for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder prior to stealing a Mountain Dew, a Snickers and a Zebra Cake totaling all of $5.05 from a 7-Eleven.

After Mitchell was arrested and charged with petty larceny, a misdemeanor, bail was set at $3,000. Later the judge revoked bail and ordered Mitchell to a state mental hospital. Court officials explained to his incredulous family members that it was so he could get help. Help was the last thing Mitchell got.

Officials are claiming Mitchell died from “natural causes.” But fellow inmates on Mitchell’s cellblock tell a different story. “I watched a physically healthy young man grow into a physically broken old man in a matter of months,” an inmate on his cellblock wrote in a letter to Mitchell’s family.

Justin Dillon, an inmate who delivered food and worked in Mitchell’s cellblock, warned prison employees that Mitchell’s condition was worsening. He said he saw Mitchell naked and muttering to himself. “He was all skin and bones. He looked like a stick.”

When Mitchell was arrested he weighed 180 pounds. After he was found dead on his cell floor he weighed 144 pounds.

The day before Mitchell died, he told a fellow inmate to get help, that he couldn’t move. Several inmates said something to prison employees. No help arrived. Mitchell was found dead on his cell floor the next morning.

Clearly the jail did not do all they could do. But there is something else going on here. The assistant superintendent acknowledged that Mitchell deteriorated during his stay – as do many mentally ill prisoners. The jail has a staff of four people who specialize in mental health care for roughly 370 inmates with psychological problems. “Our jail has become a de facto mental health facility in lieu of beds being available in the state,” according to Taylor.

Civilized societies provide mental health care and health care for all their members. The society we live in does not. This broken down rotting society throws its most vulnerable members away. Criminalizing the mentally ill and warehousing them in jails and prisons because it is less expensive than having skilled, trained professionals and staff and facilities to care for them is not civilized. What happened to Mitchell and what has and is happening to countless others in jails and prisons is nothing less than barbaric.