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Letters: Mentally ill, in prison

October 27, 2013
  • California prisons are coming under fire for several incidents in which mentally ill inmates were repeatedly pepper-sprayed. Above, Pelican Bay State Prison.
California prisons are coming under fire for several incidents in which… (Los Angeles Times )

Re "New tactics on mentally ill inmates," Oct. 24

It is distressing to read a correctional psychiatrist's assertion that psychotic prisoners "would have no memory" of being repeatedly pepper-sprayed and "have a higher than average threshold for pain or noxious stimuli."

The claim that psychotic illness would prevent a person from remembering physical pain has no basis in science. Regarding pain thresholds, a growing body of literature documents post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms in psychotic people subjected to excessive force.

Since the defunding of public psychiatry in the 1980s, prisons have increasingly played a custodial role for people who are severely mentally ill. As a society, we have chosen to treat such people as criminals first and patients second. The results: huge bills, little healing and the brutality The Times describes.

Thomas R. Blair, MD

Los Angeles

The writer is a psychiatry resident at UCLA's Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.

It has been many years since then-Gov. Ronald Regan turned the mentally ill out on the streets to create a new class of homeless some refer to as "urban campers" (those who would rather live outdoors).

Isn't it time to create a different type of prison that actually recaptures those who should have been institutionalized all along and give them the care they need?

Ron Humphrey


The dehumanization, disgusting abuse and prolonged incarceration of the mentally ill will continue as long as medical experts like California's senior prison psychiatrist believe that psychotic prisoners would have no memory of being pepper-sprayed repeatedly and that they "have a higher than average threshold for pain or noxious stimuli."

Ariana Manov

Los Angeles

Here's an idea: first-hand pepper spray experience for all prison psychiatrists, guards and other authorities. Perhaps more than one — yes, lots more — could feel as mentally ill prisoners do when they don't obey commands instantly.

You'd think experienced authorities would understand this truth: Some mentally ill people do not do what you tell them.

Here's a corollary to that truth: It's not OK to assault, spray, beat or shoot them for any reason. Here's a guideline that's easily understood and can be implemented immediately: Stop pepper-spraying sick people.

Roger Walton

North Hills


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