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Much like the city of Baltimore, MD did, when faced with a lawsuit from the Freddy Gray family, Santa Clara County, CA, opted to preemptively pay the family of Michael Tyree $3.6 million dollars, before the case went to trial. Tyree, a mentally-ill inmate, was beaten to death last year, allegedly by three correctional deputies.

Settling the case early, before going to trial, means the bulk of the payment (85 percent) will be given to Tyree’s daughter, a seven-year-old, without the typical court costs, lawyer’s fees, and the suffering that often goes along with a drawn-out trial. Shannon Tyree and Elizabeth Ott (Tyree’s sisters) will receive the remaining 15 percent.

County Counsel James R. Williams, said there were 13 pending lawsuits and three pending claims still unresolved regarding the use of force in the Santa Clara County jails. According to The Mercury News, three corrections officers, “Jereh Lubrin, Matthew Farris and Rafael Rodriguez — were charged with murder about a week after Tyree’s battered (and lifeless) body was discovered,” on August 27th, 2015. All attempts to resuscitate him failed and he was declared dead at the scene. From the beginning, Tyree’s death was investigated as a homicide, with the correctional deputies being the prime suspects. The trio is also facing assault charges for beating up yet another mentally ill inmate, Juan Villa.

According to the report, “Tyree, 31, had been beaten so badly that his spleen burst, causing him to bleed to death internally, according to a medical examiner’s report cited in the claim. His disfigurement — including deep bruising and abrasions from his head to his ankles — forced the family to hold a closed-casket funeral service, the claim said.” Credibility was added to the charges when, about a month before Tyree was allegedly murdered, text messages confirmed the guards’ abusive habits. In one instance, when it was found Villa had defecated in his jail cell, Lubrin entered the cell and rubbed Villa’s face in the excrement. It’s unclear if all three guards will be tried at the same time. Lubrin’s lawyer is invoking his right to a speedy trial, which could come as early as March 2017.

What is clear, in the opinion of some, is that the treatment both Tyree and Villa received is more reminiscent of the kind of treatment prisoners at the infamous Abu Ghraib, Iraq prison, than it is the type that all incarcerated Americans should receive and are entitled to. No prisoner, mentally ill or otherwise, should be subjected to beatings, humiliation, and murder, especially in the land of the free. But who are we kidding! After all, America incarcerates more people at a higher rate than any other country in the world.

According to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky) and the introduction of his so-called REDEEM Act, “Though only five percent of the world’s population lives in the United States, it is home to 25 percent of the world’s prison population. This phenomenon has rapidly increased in the years since 1980 and the federal prison population has grown by nearly ten-fold since. Not only does the current overpopulated, underfunded system hurt those incarcerated, it also digs deeper into the pockets of taxpaying Americans.”

Paul proposed the REDEEM act to fix what he called “broken criminal justice system”. Paul, along with several other congressmen called for the age of criminal responsibility to be raised to 18, the sealing and expungement of juvenile records, the restriction of juvenile solitary confinement, sealed non-violent criminal records, and allowed for food stamps to be restored to low-level drug offenders.

But any serious attempt at fixing the broken system must go after the industrial prison complex. According to Public Eye, “’Prison Industrial Complex’ (PIC) is a term we use to describe the overlapping interests of government and industry that use surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to what are, in actuality, economic, social, and political ‘problems.’” In other words, the establishment of an entire industry surrounding the incarceration of inmates exists as an oxymoron to reforming inmates. As one ex-prisoner stated, the system isn’t working on reforming individuals and is having the opposite effect. “I wasn’t a bad guy when I went to prison, but while in prison, I learned how to be a bad guy. And when I got out, that’s exactly what I did, bad things to people,” he told The Free Thought Project.

The mentally ill, like Tyree and Villa, often find their way into prison. Since 1980, when President Jimmy Carter signed the Mental Health Systems Act, followed by Ronald Reagan’s administration’s significant defunding of mental institutions in 1981, the federal government has been pulling out of institutionalizing the mentally ill in facilities designated for the mentally ill. Those hospitals, often called “The Funny Farm” are no longer operating as they once were. With modern medicine’s invention of antipsychotics, the thought has been that they could be medicated to live a somewhat normal life (example: John Hinckley, Jr who famously shot President Reagan was recently released back into the general population). In reality, many mentally ill find themselves institutionalized inside prisons instead of hospitals.

According to one advocacy group, “Deinstitutionalization, outdated treatment laws demanding a person become violent before intervention, discriminatory federal Medicaid funding practices and the prolonged failure by states to fund their mental health systems drive those in need of care into the criminal justice and corrections systems, rather than into the public health system where they belong.” It’s estimated that there are, “383,000 inmates with mental illness in jails and prisons.”

However valiant advocating for the mentally ill is, no amount of prison reform, legislation, mental health programs, and medicinal treatment can bring back Mr. Tyree. Likewise, no amount of training can remove the evil that must have surely found its way into the hearts of those jailhouse guards who allegedly murdered the man.

 


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Jack Burns is an educator, journalist, investigative reporter, and advocate of natural medicine