"Jamycheal Mitchell had stopped taking his schizophrenia medication before he walked into a 7-Eleven near his family’s Portsmouth, Va., home in April and allegedly stole a Mountain Dew, a Snickers bar and a Zebra Cake totaling $5.05.
After the 24-year-old’s arrest, a judge ordered him to a state psychiatric hospital to get help. But like an increasing number of the mentally ill, he sat in jail for months as he waited for a bed to open.
Other inmates said Mitchell paced naked in a cell often covered in his own filth. Family members said they were told he sometimes refused to eat or take medication, and jail records show he manically yelled. He grew gaunt, and by Aug. 19 he was dead, having shed at least 36 pounds.
A state medical examiner has yet to report a cause of death, and police are investigating Mitchell’s case, but his family and civil rights and mental health advocates are outraged that he was allowed to waste away over a $5 misdemeanor. Jail officials denied any wrongdoing, saying Mitchell was fed regularly and was seen by a nurse.
Mentally ill inmates are being warehoused for weeks, months and, in rare cases, years in jails around the nation, waiting to go to state mental hospitals where experts determine whether they are well enough to stand trial and treat those who aren’t. Advocates say the delays are leaving vulnerable defendants to languish, sometimes with tragic results.
In recent years, a defendant with mental illness was raped repeatedly at the Los Angeles jail as he waited eight months for treatment, according to a lawsuit. Three former guards at the Santa Clara County jail in California have been charged with murder for allegedly beating to death a mentally ill inmate who was waiting for a treatment bed. A third inmate in Washington state committed suicide during a wait for treatment.
In Virginia, officials said 89 inmates are waiting in jail for court-ordered mental health treatment. The backlog for Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg, where Mitchell was to go, is averaging 73 days."