"‘I can’t take it anymore’; A courtroom suicide shows the court’s unpreparedness to deal with mentally ill defendants" by The Spotlight team | November 12, 2016
The story was reported by Maria Cramer, Jenna Russell, Michael Rezendes, Scott Helman, and Todd Wallack of the Globe Spotlight Team. It was written by Cramer.
LOWELL — Debra Silvestri slipped into the women’s bathroom at the district courthouse, pulling a plastic bag full of sedatives and antidepressants from her purse. Her lawyer had just told her the judge was thinking of sending her to a women’s prison because a court-ordered test showed she had been drinking.
For more than a year, the 55-year-old mother of three had come nearly every week to the Lowell Drug Court, a requirement of her probation following a 2012 drunken driving arrest. It was supposed to be a compassionate alternative for addicts such as Silvestri, a place that steered them away from jail and toward treatment.
You mean, like this?
Should have got herself a coach.
But Silvestri had other problems that made drug court painful for her. She had struggled for years with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, once cutting her wrists and wandering the streets of Tewksbury, knocking on neighbors’ doors in the middle of the night.
Yet, court officials rarely asked Silvestri about her mental health. Instead, they focused on making sure she attended AA meetings, took random drug tests, and breathed into a machine that can detect alcohol use. Her life had turned into a succession of court-ordered deadlines that made her so anxious her hair had started falling out in clumps.
It's the $y$tem.
“I can’t take it anymore,” Silvestri often told family members.
On that afternoon in court in September 2015, Silvestri was terrified. Judge Thomas Brennan, a former prosecutor, sent at least half the people who came before him back to jail, usually for relatively minor probation violations like drinking or taking drugs. Silvestri was sure she would be next.
She emerged from the restroom. On her way into the courtroom, she saw her aunt, who had driven her to court that day.
“I don’t think I’m coming home with you today,” Silvestri said, kissing her aunt on the cheek. “Tell the kids I love them.”
Then, she took a seat at the front of the courtroom. One hour into the session, she slumped over, eyes closed. Two women sitting next to Silvestri grabbed her to keep her from falling to the floor.
An ambulance rushed her to Lowell General Hospital, a powerful mix of tricyclic antidepressants and sedatives in her veins.
By the time the vehicle pulled up to the emergency room, it was too late. The medical examiner ruled her death a suicide.
People like Deb Silvestri have been streaming into Massachusetts courtrooms in growing numbers since the early 1970s when the state began closing psychiatric hospitals, leaving more and more patients to fend for themselves and often find trouble with the law.
Just pray you don't get sent to Bridgewater.
The trend became obvious to front-line court officials as they confronted a stream of defendants who were eerily silent, suspicious, quick to anger.
“As time went by, it became more and more evident that we were dealing with more and more people with mental illness,” recalled Bernie Fitzgerald, who started his career as a probation officer in Dorchester District Court in 1971.
The courts weren’t ready for this onslaught, and they still aren’t today. An examination by the Globe Spotlight Team finds that here, as at other levels of government, the state lags badly in its services and solicitude for defendants with mental illness. Massachusetts’ court system ranks among the worst in the country at providing specialized services for people with mental illness and keeping them out of prison or jail, where they often suffer emotionally and get subpar treatment....
That is where I stopped reading because I'm so tired of these stories that hit up against the myth of the deep-blue liberal bastion that is Ma$$achu$etts. Corruption and corporate welfare are rampant and other than trailblazing on same-sex marriage, "we" rank at the bottom of nearly every other social measurement.
The ‘new asylums’
"Advocates: Mass. unlawfully isolates mentally ill inmates" by Maria Cramer and Jenna Russell Globe Staff December 31, 2016
One inmate, diagnosed with bipolar disorder, became so distraught after months in the prison’s isolation unit that he began talking to himself and counting compulsively.
Another, who suffers from schizoaffective disorder, declined so much in isolation that he smeared himself with feces.
A third, with a lengthy history of bipolar disorder, wrote a desperate letter from the segregation unit at MCI-Cedar Junction in Walpole:
“I’m feeling paranoid and isolated, claustrophobic. . . . I feel like I’m being tortured, which basically I am.”
The plights of the three men are among eight cases documented by a prisoners’ advocacy group in a troubling new report to Governor Charlie Baker. The group charges that the state is unlawfully placing men with serious mental illness in solitary confinement despite a five-year-old legal agreement to end the practice.
Attorneys for Prisoners’ Legal Services, has asked for a meeting with Baker and leaders of the Department of Correction to discuss their findings, which they believe indicate a widespread problem in the state’s 15 prisons. They say solitary confinement is both inhumane and ineffective, especially for people with mental illness.
The findings by Prisoners’ Legal Services follow a Spotlight series on the state’s failed mental health-care system....
Also see: Mass. prisons call it solitary. The UN calls it torture.
So do I.