Letters to the Editor

Deby Dihoff: An urgent need for mentally ill inmates

Regarding the Sept. 27 news article “ Inmate died of thirst after 35 days in solitary”: We should all be outraged over the death of Michael Kerr, who had a serious mental illness and died of dehydration while in the care of our prison system. Kerr was in segregation for more than a month before his death.

Here’s what happens when isolation is used with those with mental illness: Suicides occur more often, symptoms become more pronounced and decompensation can occur requiring crisis care to hospitalization. It simply does not work with those with mental illnesses!

What mental health care did he receive while in prison? Were the family’s concerns about their loved one taken into consideration?

We need protections in prisons for those with disabilities, like limits on seclusion and isolation, treatment requirements and monitoring and oversight. All this can be achieved through requiring accreditation. That has been discontinued in North Carolina, and this is the result.

Despite this truly awful story, there are some positives happening, like the prisons’ expansion of training for employees to help them understand that many behaviors are illness symptoms, not signs of needed discipline. But these changes did not happen fast enough to help Kerr. Let’s get these changes made now. It’s urgent

Deby Dihoff

Executive director, National Alliance on Mental Illness North Carolina