The judge wondered “whether any penalty is appropriate when somebody is nuts.”
Well, at least the judge - U.S District Judge Lawrence Karlton - and California prison officials are talking about the treatment of the mentally ill in prison. It is high time this population, consisting of a mind-boggling 1 in 3 state prisoners (I could write an entire post on this!, is being discussed. And it is too bad that the reason it is being discussed is that there are videos showing mentally ill California prisoners being pepper sprayed, often as they are naked and screening and sometimes in episodes that last as long as half an hour.
But, at least it is, according to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, it is being talked about.
Then again, doesn’t the fact that this is an issue to be discussed, that there is a staggering number of mentally ill prison inmates and confusion over how to deal with them, that prison guards feel it is not only okay but appropriate to pepper spray them, often repeatedly over a while and at least sometimes with them naked, have something to do with a federal judge in open court referring to the mentally ill as “nuts?”
Even if the judge is trying to make the situation better, the message he gives - the same message all of society gives - is that the mentally ill are, to say the least, strange and only worthy of being dealt with if not dismissed. But pepper spraying them probably isn’t p.c.
It doesn’t help at all, although there are now new rules regarding the use of pepper spray (including allowing “sufficient time” between uses to let the chemical take effect) and dealing with the mentally ill (including using alternative tactics when pepper spray isn’t working) in California prisons, that the prison’s head psychologist testified that psychotic prisoners have no memory of being pepper sprayed and “have a higher than average threshold for pain and noxious stimuli.”
When people - a judge, much less a psychologist - who are supposed to aid the mentally ill see the mentally ill as “nuts” who “have a higher than average threshold for pain,” something is definitely crazy and wrong. Or - to put it another way - nuts.