14 Years of Life

Mental illness in prison seems like a worthwhile topic, so when I came across a 2009 Berkeley Law Review article on the subject I downloaded it. The article was specific to California, which made me even happier.

The actual content of the article did not make me happy. The author spent two pages riffing on the addition of “and Rehabilitation” to the “California Department of Corrections.” He talks about going on the website and reading up about it. He tells us the etymology of rehabilitation. I have a soft spot for etymology, but it just felt like filler in a Berkeley Law Review article. He goes over publicly available recidivism numbers that are now out of date. And he quotes a lot of other law review articles with more original content.

After four pages of this, the author gets to his points. First, he says the prison is an “asylum and dragnet of the mentally ill.” He points out that there are many mentally ill people in prison. That prison conditions can worsen a person’s mental health, and that the mental health care provided is, in his view, insufficient. He says that mixing mentally ill prisoners with general population prisoners makes everyone worse off. He did not do any original research. Second, he says that Correctional Officers are not trained well enough to handle the mentally ill. He completely ignores the fact that the prison system has psychologists and nurses for this function. It would be like complaining that your chiropractor doesn’t do root canals. He complains that training is inadequate without explaining how he would pay for additional training. He does not provide evidence that additional training would be effective. He complains that peace officers in the prison are called “correctional officers” instead of “guards.” He spends an entire page on this for reasons I can’t understand. He spends a large amount of time describing the training that officers get on mental health, citing repeatedly to sources available online, which is ok, I guess. Then he “envisions a fuller use of correctional staff” doing psychotherapy with inmates. As I’m writing this, I’m realizing how stupid all of this is, but on the first read-through I was just trying to learn something. Honestly, although I’m a little annoyed at the author now, when I first read through I didn’t catch any of this. I guess I just assumed that if it got in the Berkeley Law Review it had some merit.

There was one thing I can use. SpearIt summarized some statistics on the effect of stress on correctional officers that were really eye-opening. Again, he did not generate these statistics; he’s just talking about work done by others. He cites research finding that correctional officers are just as stressed as patrolmen on the street. Fear of violence is the “prominent stressor.” Then the author goes back to a website, this time from the California Correctional Peace Officer’s Association, a union. They estimate the life expectancy of correctional officers at 59 years, instead of the 73 years that a non-police male can expect. The divorce rate for correctional officers is purportedly twice the national average, along with high rates of alcoholism and suicide. That helps me understand why some of the correctional officers I meet act the way they do.

The last thing I noticed about the article was the author’s name. His name is SpearIt. That’s it. No last name. Check out his faculty page at Texas Southern University, where he works as a law professor. According to this appellate opinion, his birth name is Edward Maldonado. Why is there an appellate opinion? SpearIt leaked criminal law exam questions to students during an off-campus review session and ruined the curve. I don’t know whether to read into all of this: I’m not sure I should. But it’s definitely interesting.

Notes

SpearIt is on Twitter, of course. He supports defunding the police and uses the hashtag #FTP. If you can’t decipher that, google it.

Here he is saying “ef the prison!!” I’ll link to it so that readers can understand SpearIt’s biases. But I would be proud to get cited by the Yale Law Journal too.

I went down the rabbit hole on SpearIt’s twitter. He’s constantly using the #FTP hashtag, which is sad. I lost count of the number of times. I’m surprised that the law reviews who publish him aren’t a little embarrassed by his ridiculous twitter, but what do I know. I thought I’d end with the good advice this tweet, advice that SpearIt should consider taking:

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