Criminal Procedure (continued)

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


In March, lawyers representing some 600 female prisoners at the state’s only all-female prison, the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW), returned to court to seek continued federal oversight of inmate health issues. The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, Columbia Legal Services, and the Northwest Women’s Law Center argue that the state has not lived up to the terms of the Hallett vs. Payne judgment, which required prisons to improve the prison’s quality of care for the WCCW’s 743 female prisoners.

In a written response, prison media representative Patricia Wachtel strongly disagrees. “We feel we have met the stipulations and judgments and in many cases have exceeded the requirements in setting up an adequate system, employing quality staff, and addressing problems as they arise.”

According to Aaron Caplan, staff attorney of the Washington chapter of the ACLU, particular attention in this case has been focused on two areas — the WCCW’s dental care (provided by the aforementioned Dr. Yank) and mental health care system. Patricia Arthur, project director of the Institutions Project of Columbia Legal Services in Seattle, says the mental health system has even deeper problems, including inadequate staffing, neglect of patients in crises, and violent or degrading treatment of mentally ill women.

Women housed in the mental health ward of WCCW — many of whom suffer from severe depression and psychotic disorders — are in desperate need of consistent care by licensed mental health care professionals, Arthur says. The prison insists that all inmates have access to mental health care 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

By neglecting the prisoners’ serious psychiatric counseling needs, Arthur argues the prison has witnessed a sharp increase in serious suicide attempts and incidents of self-mutilation (also known as cutting). WCCW representatives neither confirm nor deny this increase, saying only, “statistics that show an increase in numbers of self-harm or suicide attempts can be deceiving.”

To make matters worse, prisoners with mental illness are allegedly punished for hurting themselves. “[Infractions] can result in being placed in segregation, loss of ‘good time,’ [or] loss of job,” says Arthur. The prison’s policy is completely understandable, counters WCCW’s Wachtel, as infractions are a way of keeping a formal record of inmate behavior.

In transcripts of court proceedings, witnesses describe the treatment they received after admitting to feeling suicidal or committing acts of self-harm. Justine O’Neill, a 29-year-old prisoner, suffers from bipolar disorder and from post-traumatic stress disorder. In December 1998, she cut herself with a razor blade. According to O’Neill’s testimony, she never received counseling for the incident, but was punished with a loss of 10 days from her good-conduct time. Allissa McCune, a 39-year-old prisoner housed in the mental health ward for severe psychiatric problems including multipersonality disorder and panic and anxiety disorder, cut the brachial artery in her upper arm in a suicide attempt. After recovering from surgery, she was given extra hours of work duty, placed in a one-on-one watch in a small room, and fined $50 for medical expenses.


previous   next

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest