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Medical Care for County Inmates

January 04, 1998

"When a problem comes to my attention, I will fix it. When I don't make an effort to fix the deficiencies, then shame on me," Sheriff Sherman Block is quoted in The Times' story regarding medical treatment in county jails (Dec. 28).

Shame on us all. The Times has been exposing snake pit conditions for mentally ill inmates since 1989 when it dubbed the Los Angeles County Jail "the largest psychiatric facility in the United States." Yet, the deficiencies in our public policy causing criminalization of people with mental illness remain unfixed.

Medical treatment can prevent incarceration and put the victim of mental illness on a real road to recovery. Unfortunately, many people with brain diseases such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are too sick to recognize that they have an illness. Subsequently, they are incapable of obtaining medical treatment in what is overwhelmingly a voluntary community treatment system.

Sheriff Block and the Board of Supervisors should demand that the California Legislature revisit our laws regarding civil involuntary treatment for mental illness. Until that problem is addressed, the county will continue to face suits stemming from having mentally ill people in jail. And, tragically, too many people whose "crime" results from the untreated symptoms of a "no-fault" illness will continue to find the L.A. jail their "hospital of last resort."


Board Member

National Alliance for

the Mentally Ill

Long Beach

* Apart from the tales by the inmates themselves, further accounts of the system's deficiencies are readily shared by those of us working in county or veterans affairs health centers.

To us often falls the task of properly caring for the released inmate whose diabetes, seizures or infection may be out of control or whose fracture was improperly managed.

Clear lines of communication between us and jail medical staff, along with a concise, intelligible medical summary provided to the inmate upon release would be valuable first steps in correcting these problems.


VA Medical Center

West Los Angeles

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