Fifty years ago, this country began closing mental hospitals where people with psychiatric disorders were often warehoused. The idea was to send patients back to their communities, where they would live better lives with help from local mental health programs.
Unfortunately, those services were limited, and many people ended up on the streets or behind bars. Today, up to 18% of inmates in Virginia prisons are taking drugs for psychiatric conditions, and critics say some are being punished because they can’t comply with prison rules.
By the end of this year, California must release 9,600 prisoners from the nation’s largest correctional system, because the Supreme Court says overcrowding makes it impossible to provide adequate healthcare for inmates.
Failing to do so constitutes cruel and unusual punishment - a violation of the U.S. Constitution. Virginia’s prisons are also crowded and facing a lawsuit over medical care that will be heard this spring, but on other reasons for change in the Commonwealth’s correctional centers.
The American Civil Liberties Union and a church-based group called the Family Foundation don’t agree about many things, but they’ve found common ground on a surprising issue involving prison inmates.
State prisons routinely handcuff inmates when they’re taken outside prison walls, and jails may use shackles to prevent escape, but there’s a growing chorus of protest over such treatment for pregnant women. Some have been forced to deliver babies with their ankles in chains, but Abigail Turner – a lawyer for the Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville says that may soon change.
More than 33,000 people live behind bars in Virginia, and from their cells few have a view of the outside world, but a Richmond artist aims to change that.
If you were locked up for months, years or a lifetime and could look out a window, what would you most like to see? That’s the question Mark Strandquist has put to inmates in Virginia jails and prisons.
“And then I go to that place, photograph it and bring the image to them, and then they write about it.”