The Tragedy of Mental Illness in American Prisons

On the morning of April 13, 2015, a guard at Sullivan Correctional Facility, a New York State maximum-security prison nestled deep in the woods of the western Catskills, ordered a prisoner named Karl Taylor to clean his cell. By all accounts, the cell, in the prison’s E North housing block—a special unit for inmates classified as mentally ill—was a rancid mess, strewn with papers and clothes, and soaked with shampoo and other liquids. Taylor, however, had balked for weeks at cleaning it. He insisted that as part of an ongoing campaign of harassment, guards had trashed his cell and stolen his belongings while he was being held in a mental-health observation unit in a separate wing of the 550-inmate prison.

Taylor had been in prison since 1995, serving a minimum sentence of 27 years for a rape conviction in his hometown of Troy, New York. After his arrival in state custody, he was diagnosed with delusional disorder and paranoid personality disorder. By 2015, he had already made two trips to the state’s prison psychiatric hospital, where he’d received medication to quiet his symptoms. And while he had periods of relative calm, he had spent almost half of his time behind bars—nearly 10 years—in solitary confinement, a debilitating experience that experts say disorients even the sanest of prisoners.

– The Atlantic

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