Saturday’s Editorial: Too many mentally ill inmates in Florida prisons are being mistreated

If Danny Geiger were still alive, his mother believes he would be pleased with a settlement agreement filed this week by the state to improve mental health care within its prison system.

But Geiger, a mentally ill man who hailed from Orange Park, died in 2016 after being abused by the prison system that had confined him. Her last mental image of her son is as a disheveled, skeletal man.

″(The settlement) sounds like it would put an end to the human torture because that’s what the Department of Corrections has been doing,” says Geiger’s mother, Debra James. “That’s exactly what our son was subjected to and this could have saved his life.”

The settlement, filed a week ago, is the end result of a year of mediation between the Florida Department of Corrections and Disability Rights Florida over the quality of care being provided to persistent and chronically mentally ill inmates.

These are inmates with psychiatric illnesses that are so severe they often landed them in special mental health units in prison. That’s what happened to Geiger, who was often psychotic when not maintained on his medication.

The year-long mediation was initiated as the result of a suit threatened by Disability Rights Florida against the Corrections Department that outlined numerous often-gruesome cases in which mentally ill inmates were injured or even killed. Even when that didn’t happen, inmates with mental issues often failed to receive the treatment or medication they needed to fight off their mental demons.

In the midst of the negotiations, a team from Disability Rights Florida toured the in-patient mental health units at Union Correction Institution near Raiford and Clermont’s Lake Correctional Institution to observe their daily operations and mental health treatments. These have been noted as the most problematic mental health units in the state.

“Those are prisons that were created decades ago and really aren’t able to handle mental health care,” says David Boyer, Disability Rights Florida’s director of investigations. “We hope this creates a climate in the Department of Corrections that’s more conducive to the treatment of mentally ill inmates.”

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