Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Kelly Thomas' Parents Need Compassion, Not Blame

In the aftermath of Kelly Thomas’s beating death in Fullerton, California, American Spectator published an article suggesting that – in the rush to blame – the media and the public had overlooked an important party: Thomas’s parents.

“There was virtually no criticism of Thomas’s divorced parents for allowing their schizophrenic son to roam the streets,” writes Christopher Orlet in “Misplaced Compassion” (Aug. 11). “(I)f Kelly Thomas was too dangerous to live at home with his mother or father, why was it okay for him to roam the streets where he might harm innocent passersby?”

The criticism and caustic tone with which Orlet writes of the parents - “Thomas père received an offer for nearly $1 million in compensation from city officials, which he turned down. No doubt, he intends to sue for much more” - are particularly unaccountable because the author gets so much so right.

Kelly Thomas shouldn’t have been roaming the streets with untreated schizophrenia. Society needs to stop viewing court-ordered treatment as “cruel and a violation (of) civil rights” and “do something helpful like involuntarily commit" people like Thomas so they get treatment. Leaving those with untreated mental illness “to languish and die on the streets of our greatest cities” is a failure of compassion and justice. Expecting police officers to act as mental health professionals is “like asking social workers to arrest car jackers.”

But - as every parent who has desperately struggled to shelter, save, protect or protect themselves from an adult with untreated severe mental illness knows - there is no parental “allowing” involved. If an adult child chooses to leave the family home, to live on the streets, to reject medication, to dwell in a perpetual twilight of unreality at the mercy of the elements and predators, the parents have precious few tools for stopping him and, more likely, will be rejected, ignored or dismissed for using the few they have,

The World Health Organization reported in 1998 that 40% of individuals with schizophrenia in the US live with relatives, and “distress is not necessarily lower when the sufferer lives away from home” (“Schizophrenia and Public Health,” p. 14). Typical family impacts include financial loss, guilt, fear, the stress of coping with disturbed behavior, disrupted household routines and others.

Parents are among those who need more compassion, not more blame.

An Open Letter to Mayor Brown and Knoxville City Council

Dear Mayor Brown & City Council:

I am writing to urge your support in getting Angelic Ministries back to full operation as soon as possible.

I am an advocate for those with serious and persistent mental illnesses. Angelic Ministries is one of the few organizations in Knoxville who compassionately cares about these folks and works tirelessly to help them get back on their feet via the men's Job Corp. As anyone will tell you who works with the seriously mentally ill, this is NOT an easy task and sometimes includes convincing them to comply with treatment for their illness. Such a task requires much patience and hard work, attributes that I have personally witnessed displayed by Mr. Earl.

It would be a shame to lose this valuable service provided to our Knoxville community and I implore you to give Angelic Ministries the City's full support.

Best,

Karen Easter
http://aot4tn.blogspot.com

Angelic Ministries Needs Our Help!

For those of you that have called the Mayor's office or other city officials and said nice things about the work of Angelic Ministries, THANK YOU! For those of you that haven't, there is still time :-) Quick phone call, email or letter of support is appreciated ... and it's working! www.angelicministries.com

To make a quick online comment of support: http://www.cityofknoxville.org/online/form.asp

Knoxville Mayor Daniel Brown, phone 865 215-2085 mayor@cityofknox.org

-----------------------

Fix It For Families

What if you knew of a place that truly served the poor families in our city? I mean a place that ‘gave as it was given’. Freely received and freely given. A place that gave diapers and dishes, hats and hygiene items, shoes and socks, coats and couches, toothpaste and toys, beds and blankets to over 2500 people and all of it for free!!!
What if in a years span that place took almost 1500 referrals from churches, medical facilities, ministries, county, city and state agencies for furniture alone? What if that place had a corps of volunteers that walked with them to speak an encouraging word or offer some much needed direction to an otherwise wandering spirit. What if this place offered the opportunity to some 50 groups to volunteer here to carry out this work? What if that place went a step further and took some of the very ones that came for help and trained them to ready a warehouse and find worth in serving their community?
What if that place took those exiting prison, escaping the street or entangled in their situation and walked on a 12 -18 month journey with them to see again the once independent life they once had or have longed for? What if that place took the last 16 weeks of their time spent there to journey through a curriculum to learn life skills and job readiness to prepare them for success all along traveling this road with a mentor assigned as they enter the program? What if this place assisted them in attaining their GED or drivers license as well as learning the basics of a second language?
Now, what if this place needed your help to do something that would enable them to continue to do the things you have just read about? Would you help them?
That place is Angelic Ministries Int. and the Knox County Christian Men’s Job Corps. We have served this city and many surrounding counties since 2003 without any government assistance and have relied on some faithful churches and individuals to help meet the financial needs of this ministry. We have been able to operate to this point with that help though tough at times. However, at this time we have been mandated to bring our facility up to the standards deemed by our city and state government as safe and operational. Our desire is to comply and be obedient to those who have authority over us.
We need your help. We have set aside a separate account and have launched a fundraising campaign called; “Fix It For Families”. The estimated cost of all repairs that have to be done will range from $75,000 to $100,000. This covers emergency corridors, commercial type kitchen, lighting, permanent source of heat and added sprinkler work that needs to be done. There are also some exterior issues we will have to address as well. Would you help a place like us if it meant helping families that are in a crisis? Let me just leave you with a two verses from a very wise man.

It is a sin to despise one’s neighbor, but blessed is the one who is kind to the needy. Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker,
but whoever is kind to the needy honors God. [Prov. 14:21,31]

With deepest gratitude,
Bro.Tony Earl
Executive Director
Angelic Ministries Int.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Knoxville church cancels service for homeless, blames city bureaucracy

Knoxville church cancels service for homeless, blames city bureaucracy: For the first time in eight years, a North Knoxville church will have to cancel services for the needy and homeless due to a dispute with the city.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Spending Millions on Indigent Defense vs. Spending Millions on Treatment - which to choose?

I just spoke to Lea in Sen. Doug Overbey's office regarding the concept of spending millions on treatment, not court costs.

Thank you, everyone, for flooding their office with your phone calls of support!



Lea said Sen. Overbey has received MANY phone calls in support of AOT just this morning.

Keep them coming toll free: 1 800-449-TENN, ext. 10981

Tell them TENNESSEE needs to be the 45th state in our nation to implement AOT laws.

On being misunderstood: a serious risk

http://www.bringmitricehome.org/REWARD.html

People with serious & untreated mental illness are often misunderstood and therefore at risk out in the community.  AOT laws would ensure their safety by providing treatment before it's too late.  This young lady, Mitrice Richardson, might still be alive if only her psychotic state would have been acknowledged & addressed by those who were in contact with her.  Was it simply easier to release her into the night than to deal with her behaviors and/or her relatives?  We need to keep raising awareness to save more lives.  This could well have been your daughter ... your son ... your mother.  Severe mental illness is no respecter of persons.  It can affect any of us at any time.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Yet another compelling reason Tennessee needs an AOT law on the books: Saving millions in court costs!

 http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2011/aug/21/cost-for-concern/

The following is my response to the above article that appeared in this morning's Knoxville News Sentinel.

The solution to saving millions in Tennessee's indigent defense fund is simple:  an AOT law in Tennessee.

How could that possibly work, you ask?

Truth be known, many of these costs are a direct result of un-treated mental illness. The poor judgement of these very sick folks eventually results in their arrest for petty misdemeanors and crimes. This is where the tab begins. Our tax money is spent for officer salaries to deal with and arrest them which is the only ticket to treatment that some will receive. Then there's jail. More money spent for housing, meals, staffing to care for them and meds. Then court representation and the reason this article was written.  Additional millions spent.  Then - the kicker - they are released back on the streets to start the process all over again.

Does anyone else recognize a vicious cycle that is continually costing Tennessee taxpayers millions of dollars?

To reiterate the very simple, money saving solution:

Our elected legislators need to put Assisted Outpatient Treatment Laws on the books in Tennessee!

Forty-four states permit the use of assisted outpatient treatment (AOT), also known as outpatient commitment, court-ordered outpatient treatment, mandated treatment and other terms that vary by state. LET'S MAKE TENNESSEE THE 45TH!

Assisted outpatient treatment is court-ordered treatment (including medication) for individuals with symptoms of severe mental illness who meet strict legal criteria, e.g., they have a history of medication noncompliance. Studies and data from states using assisted outpatient treatment have found that AOT is effective in reducing the incidents and duration of hospitalization, homelessness, arrests and incarcerations, victimization, violent episodes and other consequences of non-treatment. AOT also increases treatment compliance and promotes long-term voluntary compliance.

Currently there is an AOT law stuck in a TN Senate study committee as I write this. Let's help it move forward by pointing out to our state legislators that an AOT law would SAVE MONEY and LIVES.

I urge you to contact Sen. Doug Overbey first thing Monday morning, toll free: 800-449-TENN, ext. 10981

http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2011/aug/21/cost-for-concern/

Saturday, August 20, 2011

More Lessons from Kelly Thomas' Beating Death

From the Treatment Advocacy Center's Blog


In the weeks since the unconscionable beating death of Kelly Thomas by six Fullerton, California, police officers, personal accounts from Kelly’s parents and news reports based on official court records have detailed a personal and family odyssey that is heartbreaking and devastatingly familiar.
Kelly Thomas was ill enough that over the past decade he was deemed “gravely disabled,” and conservatorship was assumed at various times by the court and by his father. His own mother once felt compelled to obtain a restraining order – hoping it would lead to treatment for her son.
kelly-thomas
That Thomas didn’t get the treatment he so obviously needed and died as a result is now the stuff of grief, headlines, recriminations and – more constructively – Orange County’s belated decision to at least look into implementing Laura’s Law, which would authorize court-ordered treatment for mental illness in California’s second most-populated county.
Among the lessons of this tragedy is its reminder that victims of violent episodes stemming from untreated severe mental illness are very often the victims of illness themselves. OurPreventable Tragedies Database only scratches the surface of violent deaths that shouldn’t have occurred, but it currently contains nearly 900 reports of individuals with mental illness being killed or injured by police officers. Those reports don't count the Tuesday (Aug. 16) police shooting in Oklahoma of Charles W. Hundley, 59, a man who suffered bipolar disorder and was off his medication and manic, according to his sister (“Sister: Lack of mental health resources to blame,” Muskogee Phoenix, Aug. 17). With the criminal justice system increasingly being treated as a mental health agency, we can only expect more stories like these. 
Also too often lost in the sensationalism of reporting violent acts by the mentally ill is the high incidence of self-violence they commit. Suicide is the number one cause of premature death among people with schizophrenia; an estimated 10 percent to 13 percent of those with the disease eventually kill themselves. Suicide is even more pervasive in individuals with bipolar disorder, with 15 percent to 17 percent taking their own lives. Partly as a result, the life expectancy of those with severe mental illness is 25 years less than the general population’s in this country.

Events like the mass murders at Virginia Tech and the January shootings in Tucson rightfully raise awareness that anyone can become a victim of with untreated mental illness. Our hope is that Kelly Thomas’s death also raises awareness that people with untreated severe mental illness are dying far too young everywhere, every day - and they will continue doing so unless they get the treatment they need. Orange County - and the rest of the country - needs better mental health laws and policies if this is ever to change.  
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Sister: Lack of mental health resources to blame

A sister speaks out. A sad example of a very sick young man, abandoned by the mental health system, whose family tried desperately but unsuccessfully to get him help for his untreated illness.

Sister: Lack of mental health resources to blame

It’s untreated mental illness that leads to tragedies - The Boston Globe

"Disregarding or misrepresenting the link between nontreatment and violence is a disservice that protects nobody." So very true, yet so very ignored. Thanks, Kristina, for raising awareness.

It’s untreated mental illness that leads to tragedies - The Boston Globe

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Mental Illness - Circuitry, not Behavior


from the Treatment Advocacy Center's blog
What does it mean to call a mental illness a “brain disorder”?

Thomas Insel is an MD and a research scientist who directs the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the nation’s mental health research arm. He writes a blog that’s always thoughtful and informative.

In his Aug. 12 blog, “Mental illness defined as disruption in neural circuits,” he explains some of the neurophysiology of mental illness before cutting through the technical underbrush to address topics like how neuroimaging could transform the way we diagnose mental disorders and when they are diagnosed.

“(C)ould imaging allow earlier detection and preemption of the behavioral and cognitive changes – from the social isolation of autism to the psychosis of schizophrenia?” he writes. “This preemptive approach, which has transformed outcomes in heart disease and cancer, could also transform psychiatry, by focusing on prevention for those at risk rather than the partial amelioration of symptoms late in the process.” Dr. Insel says neuroscience discoveries are “coming fast and furious” and that “there can be little doubt that clinical neuroscience will soon be helping people with mental disorders to recover.”

Coming from the man who runs the nation’s biggest source of mental illness research, this is cause for hope for all of us who live and work with the most severe mental illnesses.

It also is validation of our mantra that mental illness is medical, not behavioral, an issue that relates to our current Home page feature decrying the entirely behavioral nature of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration”s (SAMHSA) proposed 10 “guiding principles of recovery,” now available for public comment.  
For more information about SAMSHA’s proposed principles and how to comment on them before the agency’s comment period closes on Aug. 26, please visit our Home page.

For another look at issues in detecting psychotic disorders earlier, check out “Early mental-illness screening can prevent onset of serious complications” (Arizona Daily Star, Aug. 18).

Psychiatric Crisis Resource Kit

Anosognosia -- What it is and how it feels

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A New Approach to Navigating Persistent Mental Illness in Georgia


From the Treatment Advocacy Center's blog:

Georgia has launched a "war on recidivism" from incarceration, hospitalization and homelessness among people with severe mental illness with a new program that relies on teams of "community navigation specialists" to support successful living in the community.
"Open doors to aid mental health care in Savannah" (Savannah Morning News, July 15) reports that the two-year, 34-county pilot project called "Open Doors" will attempt to "assist the region's most chronic recidivists to find a safe place outside of jails or mental health facilities." The hope is to identify the "100 most seriously ill recidivists and find treatment programs and follow-up for them" by the end of November. So far, 29 patients have been screened and 21 enrolled.
The goal when deinstitutionalization of psychiatric patients began about a half-century ago was to shift individuals from state hospitals to the community. Because the community services that were supposed to support them never were widely implemented, they ended up on the streets, in jails and prisons, and/or prematurely dead. Here's hoping Georgia's pilot does indeed stop the revolving door for its participants and prove successful enough that the state will fund it for more than 100 people.
Sadly, there will always be individuals in psychiatric crisis who are too ill to volunteer for or participate in programs like this. Court-ordered treatment will remain an essential treatment option for them. For a dramatic illustration of how it can save lives and families, watch our 30-minute documentary, "Stopping the Revolving Door – A Civil Approach to Treating Severe Mental Illness," online now.
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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

O.C. supervisors look into treatment of the mentally ill

O.C. supervisors look into treatment of the mentally ill

Not guilty and insane: Local defendants are getting out, rearrested

Not guilty and insane: Local defendants are getting out, rearrested

Arrested - Released - Rearrested: What's wrong with this cycle?

Latest posting on the Treatment Advocacy Center's Blog:


From North Dakota: Department of Corrections plans to alter its parole policies after a 75-year-old woman is brutally killed by a former inmate with a history of severe mental illness.
From Florida: At least 29% of defendants acquitted by reason of insanity in Palm Beach County in the last 20 years have been rearrested. Some were re-arrested in as little as a week; others went on to kill.
From California: A comparison of three-year recidivism rates found that 74-77% of inmates who were identified as needing mental health services were re-incarcerated compared with 66% of those who were not.
There's a lot wrong with this cycle.
For starters, it demonstrates once again that the people with mental illness are more likely to be incarcerated than in a psychiatric hospital. (See "More Mentally Ill Persons Are in Jails and Prisons Than Hospitals" for state-by-state data.) The criminal justice system is not the place where people with severe mental illness get the treatment they need to reduce the symptoms that lead to their arrest in the first place.
Moreover, the cycle persists in spite of the fact that court-ordered outpatient treatment (assisted outpatient treatment or AOT) is known to reduce arrest, incarceration, violence, hospitalization and a host of other ills.
Only six states lack any form of AOT. That means that 44 – including North Dakota, Florida and two counties in California – have laws that could help end this devastating cycle. States need to use their laws to ensure people receive mental health treatment in order to function safely in the community. Click here to find out what the law is in your state.
To learn more:
• From North Dakota: "Slaying by released inmate prompts parole policy changes" (Argus Leader, July 15).
• From Florida: "Not guilty and insane: Local defendants are getting out, rearrested" (Palm Beach Post, July 10). 
• From California: "2010 Adult Institutions: Outcome Evaluation Report" (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, October 2010) 
To comment, visit our Facebook page.
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Sunday, August 7, 2011

Families can only do so much and desperately need backup


Ron Thomas, a former cop, can't understand why his mentally ill son became the victim of a violent confrontation with Fullerton police. He won't rest until he finds answers.



Kelly Thomas' grieving father fights for justice - Los Angeles Times

Saturday, August 6, 2011

These Cops Killed Somebody The Community Really Loved Ron Thomas Speaks

Good News - there IS a magic wand!

"The reality is, the best programs, even the best trained officers, will have those encounters with persons whose mental illness is so severe at that particular contact that it is going to be violent," he said. "There is no magic wand." http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2011/aug/05/police-training-eyed-after-mentally-ill-man-dies/

Oh, but there IS a magic wand. It's called assisted outpatient treatment. This law helps negate the need for reactive measures by anyone, including the police. 


The critical question for Tennessee is - will our legislators acknowledge this and pass Senate Bill 608 that would prevent tragedies like what happened to Kelly Thomas?


Friday, August 5, 2011

Kelly Thomas Killing Update

The California Mental Health System and the Death of Mentally Ill Kelly Thomas

DJ Jaffe, The Huffington Post
In California, it is playing out with relentless familiarity: the death of Kelly Thomas at the hands of Fullerton police has led to the usual criticisms of the police and calls for better training and more compassion.
But Carla Jacobs, founder of the California Treatment Advocacy Coalition founder, and California's most astute mental illness advocate, notes in an interview that while police could always use better training in how to handle dangerous mentally ill individuals, the police are not always the villains: "When it comes to treating people with the most serious mental illnesses, the police will react where California's mental health system won't. Police are almost never out on a call regarding mental illness unless one condition is met: the mentally ill person has been abandoned by the mental health system. That's when they deteriorate, become psychotic, delusional and dangerous."
That happens too often. Ms. Jacobs remembers when mentally ill Edward Charles Allaway killed seven individuals on the Fullerton campus of California. "It was police who tracked him down." Ms. Jacobs' own sister-in-law was abandoned by the mental health system and shot her mother. Again: the police stepped in.
As Randall Hagar, Director of Government Affairs for the California Psychiatric Association who has been a relentless advocate for better care for the most seriously ill observed, "About 50% of people with schizophrenia suffer from anosognosia, the inability to recognize they are ill because the illness eliminates the capacity of the brain to exercise insight. Medications can provide the type of symptom reduction that can prevent violence."
California's mental health system needlessly and intentionally created their own horrific and violent catch-22: it refuses to provide any treatment unless the mentally ill person is well enough to recognize their need for it. All others are turned over to the police. And even their hands are tied until after the individual becomes danger to self or others. Mr. Thomas's family made multiple attempts to get California's mental health system to help Kelly. On the KFI John and Ken show, Kelly Thomas's sister said, "We tried everything... I feel it is the law that has kept us from keeping him in a place on his medication and healthy." The system refused to budge.
Law enforcement is desperate to return treatment of the seriously ill to the mental health system. Untreated seriously mentally ill not only put the public at risk, they put officers at risk. Michael Biassotti, Vice President of the NYS Chiefs of Police wrote movingly on police and mentally ill after an incident in NYS:
The last thing any police officer wants to do is pull out a gun. It's a sign that something has gone terribly wrong. But increasingly officers are being forced to pull out their guns, and often it's to protect the public from someone with untreated mental illness.
Chief Biasotti believes a big part of the solution is returning treatment of the mentally ill to the mental health system through greater use of Assisted Outpatient Treatment ("Laura's Law" in California). The National Sheriff's Association agrees.
Laura's Law allows courts to order certain individuals who are too ill to recognize their need for treatment to accept treatment as a condition of living in the community. It returns care of the mentally ill to the mental health system. Research in Nevada County, the one California County to implement this optional law shows it works and saves money.
Californians should stop blaming law enforcement for the failure of the mental health system. Put the blame where it really belongs: on a mental health system that refuses to focus its resources on treating the most seriously mentally ill.
The mechanism -- Laura's Law, and the funding, Prop 63 is available. What's lacking is leadership.


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Thursday, August 4, 2011

DA: "your heart is sad watching this ..."

Mr. Thomas' sister has stated "we tried everything - the law kept us from keeping him on his medication and healthy."  The real battle here should be to implement Laura's Law in Orange County where this happened. Remember, police don't go in except to care for those the mental health system refuses to treat. ~ DJ Jaffe, advocate for serious mentally ill
8 hours ago

Los Angeles (CNN) -- Six Fullerton, California, police officers were placed on involuntary administrative leave as the FBI and Orange County District Attorney investigate the death of a homeless man who was in police custody, authorities said Wednesday.

The decision by Police Chief Michael Sellers came just hours before a contentious Fullerton City Council meeting Tuesday evening. More than 100 residents spent three hours at the meeting expressing outrage about the death of Kelly Thomas, who sustained serious injuries during the July 5 arrest by the officers, a police spokesman said.

"They're pretty much homebound," police spokesman Sgt. Andrew Goodrich told CNN Wednesday. The officers will remain on salary; their names weren't released, he said.

"Any sort of termination, suspension or exoneration for the matter will occur at the end of the investigation," Goodrich said.

During Tuesday evening's council meeting, Thomas' father, Ron, expressed anger about how his son died in police custody. He accused the police of beating his son."I just wonder where my son's rights went as a citizen," Thomas told the council. "Where were his rights? Listen to my son beg those officers, 'Please, please, God, I'm sorry, I'm sorry.' And the last words of his life, 'Dad! Dad!' I want you to hear that for the rest of your life like I will."

The FBI is investigating whether Kelly Thomas' civil rights were violated during the incident, said Laura Eimiller, spokeswoman for the FBI's Los Angeles office.

The Fullerton police have classified the incident as an "in-custody death," Goodrich said.

The incident between Kelly Thomas and the police officers, at a Fullerton bus depot, was captured on video, local authorities said.

"There are things that you can see and there's things you can't," Susan Kang Schroeder, chief of staff for the Orange County District Attorney's office, told CNN about the video. "Your heart is sad watching what happens in the case."

So far, the district attorney's office has interviewed 80 persons, and it is expected to interview 20 more, Schroeder said.

Authorities haven't established an official cause of death and are awaiting results from a coroner's autopsy and toxicology tests, Schroeder said.

On July 5 at around 8:30 p.m., officers responded to reports that a man was trying to break into cars near the city bus depot three blocks from city hall, police said. Fullerton is 30 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles.

The responding officers identified the suspect as Kelly Thomas, 37, a homeless man who frequented the area, police said.

An altercation took place between the police officers and Thomas. Thomas sustained serious injuries during his arrest and was taken to a local hospital, police said. Five days later, Thomas was removed from life support and died, police said.

Upon the police department's request, the Orange Country District Attorney took over the investigation of the case, police said.

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