Nor, finally, can anyone read Director Samuels' memo as indicative of a shift in prison policy that will encourage the reporting of staff abuse of mentally ill prisoners.The Bacote complaint alleges that, at ADX Florence, the prison "watchdog" official responsible for investigating allegations of official misconduct is married to the prison official who is responsible for "all correctional functions" at the facility. How could an inmate take Samuels up on his invitation and expect much of a growl from the watchdog?
THE MEMO'S AUDIENCE
Of course, not every federal prisoner is mentally ill. And not every mentally ill prisoner in the federal system has been abused, mistreated, misdiagnosed, or otherwise ignored. If there is one consistent pattern in the allegations of the two pending complaints, it is that federal prisoners tend to get better treatment (and, more important, to get better) when they are transferred away from places like Supermax and toward prisons like MCFP Springfield, in Missouri, which specializes in mental health care.
Another consistent pattern from the two complaints is the hostility towards mental health care that the plaintiffs allege at ADX Florence. You can't read the July 20 memo, for example, without remembering that there is an inmate in Director Samuels' realm who is allowed to self-mutilate in his Supermax cell (Jack Powers has cut off his scrotum, and a testicle, and has amputated some of his fingers) even though prison officials know that he responded well to drugs and treatment when housed at Springfield.
Jack Powers has been reaching out for help for years. So has Harold Cunningham, another plaintiff, who reached out as Director Samuels has suggested. Cunningham in 2004 was given a "tele-psychiatry" session whereby he spoke via video conference with an off-site doctor. Cunningham alleges that, during the session, he was handcuffed from behind with shackles on his legs and surrounded by corrections officers. Surely this isn't what the Bureau of Prisons means when it says that "help is available," is it?
Jaison Leggett probably got the memo. Suffering from mental illness, he now allegedly crawls around ADX Florence on one leg because prison officials have refused to replace his prosthetic. And perhaps Herbert Isaac Perkins did, too. After he tried to commit suicide in 2008, he was promptly returned to the cell in which he had made the attempt, a cell which was still covered in his own blood. This, after he had been successfully treated with psychotropic medicine at other prisons.
THE PATH AHEAD
The Bureau of Prisons has not yet formally responded in court to either of the two lawsuits, both of which are before U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch. The government's responses are expected soon. The Justice Department likely will ask Judge Matsch to dismiss the charges. The Bureau of Prisons did not immediately respond to my request for comment on the July 20 memo. But, in any event, it is clear what the legal response will be. It, too, is contained in Director Samuels' memo, at the very end:
I want your life to go forward in a positive direction -- a direction personally fulfilling to you, but also a direction which ensures the safety of the staff and inmates who interact with you each day.
That's the argument -- that, even if the allegations are true, the deprivation of medicine and care, the emptiness of reporting safeguards, and even the occasional abuse are necessary to ensure the safety of the prison, its staff, and its inmates. The sub-argument is that, even if reasonable people disagree about how to treat the mentally ill in our nation's prisons, the final call ought to be made by prison officials as "experts" in the field. Read's Samuels' statement to that effect, made in June during a Senate subcommittee hearing on Capitol HIll.