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Jail Is No Place for the Mentally Ill

Parents Make the Case for Their Son

After our son’s story was told in “A Christmas Story, Sort Of,” we would like to create a greater awareness about the mental health crisis within the Santa Barbara jail. We feel an urgency about the injustice and inhumanity taking place and being committed against the mentally ill.

Everyone knows that jails were made for criminals, not for people who are sick. As far as we understand, our son, Francisco Aledo, has not been found guilty of any crime, and he is presumed innocent unless proven otherwise, not the other way around. Unfortunately, after two-and-a-half going on to three years, and contrary to the idea of justice, he is being treated as someone already paying a prison sentence before going to trial.

If Francisco is truly guilty of anything, his only crime is to be born a victim of an incurable but treatable illness. For this reason, we urge the judicial system to once again take charge and do everything within its power to have Francisco or anyone in a similar condition, transferred to a psychiatric facility as soon as possible to receive desperately needed mental health treatment. We would like to denounce that the longer Francisco remains in jail, the worse will his condition become. We have already witnessed the consequences every time we are in contact. We notice how much his condition has deteriorated, fallen to the lowest level we have ever seen. Because our son failed to follow a periodic treatment plan and remained unmedicated, he began to decompensate which precipitated a decline into a state of crisis. At the time of arrest, instead of jail, he should have been taken to a crisis intervention center.

Francisco was sent and is being held in solitary at the North West unit at the Santa Barbara jail. Delusional and in varying stages of paranoia, he is hearing voices and experiencing hallucinations. This has caused him to act up, be conflictive, unruly, combative, and disruptive. Although we are unsure of what is going on at this time, in the past, to modify his behavior he has been penalized, his privileges taken away in the false belief that this will influence a change. While this method might work for the general population, it produces a completely opposite effect on the mentally ill. For Francisco, it exacerbates his already dire mental health and makes his condition far worse than when he first was incarcerated.

There is substantial scientific evidence that points to a long DUP (Duration of Untreated Psychosis) as very harmful to the brain. It causes a gradual but progressive loss of brain tissue and worsens the outcome for those with schizophrenia. The judicial system should be sensitized, made aware that allowing the mentally ill to remain behind bars, without treatment and unmedicated while court proceedings take place, is cruel and inhumane. Jail is no place for the mentally ill; it is wrong and unjust particularly when a psychiatrist’s diagnosis and the patient’s competency levels have already been firmly established.

If anyone sees an injured person on the streets, our instinctive nature is to call for emergency assistance. But for those we see wandering the streets, who are evidently “mentally injured,” we would rather ignore them. Most just look the other way and allow nothing to happen. For most of us, mental illness is too much of an abstract and intangible concept to take notice, unless we are directly being affected. It is disregarded as a nuisance, and the mentally ill are left to their own fate.

The courts need to move forward and accept that Francisco is a very sick young man, with an extremely serious psychiatric diagnosis. Like any physical ailment, it must be treated with the upmost sense of urgency. Very few, if any, in the judicial system seem to grasp that. There is no question that our son is ill and has substantial impairments that keep him from being able to function normally or engage in gainful activity; he is therefore incompetent. Unfortunately, unlike a medical condition, victims of mental illness, because of its mostly behavioral nature, get little if any sympathy.

Although the court’s judgment is legally sound, what has transpired with our son is a perfect example of the tragic lack of understanding about mental illness. Francisco and people like him, and please excuse the repetition, need to be in a hospital, not locked up. But it is obvious the judicial system does not seem to fully grasp the extent and complexity of the issue, and it permits jails and prisons to become de facto mental asylums. Like my son, people with mental illness often spend far longer in jail waiting for their cases to be resolved, and while that takes place, they remain severely psychotic and their condition continues to further deteriorate.

It is for this reason that laws need and must be changed, but in the meantime, we cannot wait for that to happen. We make a desperate plead to anyone with the power to allow our son to be transferred as soon as possible to a mental health facility where he belongs, and not remain incarcerated. Our family is not interested in his release into the community, unless he receives the appropriate mental health intervention he so urgently requires.

People with mental illness are among the most disadvantaged members of our society. When they end up in the criminal justice system, they tend to fare worse than others. People with mental illness are less likely to make bail and more likely to face longer sentences. They are more likely to end up in solitary confinement, less likely to make parole, and more likely to commit suicide. Let us spare further pain and suffering to Francisco and our family, and the financial costs to the State of California. Whatever you can do within your power to expedite or move this case forward, in the name of God, will be greatly appreciated.

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