Saturday, December 28, 2013

Getting old

I watched a documentary yesterday about geriatric units in prisons across the country.  The number of elderly and disable prisoners is exploding due longer sentences for crimes in general, and sentencing policies like "three strikes".  Seeing these old guys brought back memories of prisoner D.  He told me he stole cars for a living, and occasionally he got caught.  He was doing is fourth of fifth bit when I met him.  He had never tried to escape and had no history of violent misconduct reports, so he was at secure Level I prison. I always saw him for things like refusing to report to his work detail.  He got tired of them after eight or nine months, so he would quit.  Prisoners are not allowed to voluntarily quit their work details.  So he would get a major misconduct for Disobeying a Direct Order or Out of Place.  Then he came to see me.  He never denied any of the charges.  He pleaded guilty, then took a few minutes to reminisce about stealing cars.
But one day everything changed.  Prisoner D got locked up in one of the temporary holding cells because he completely went off on an officer, yelling and threatening to kill the officer, causing total disruption of the housing unit.  When he came in for the hearing, he denied everything, like he did not know what the officer was talking about.  He got two or three more of these misconduct reports, very similar, each time totally denying the allegations.  He ultimately got sent next door to a higher security level, ended up in the segregation unit facing charges of Threatening Behavior.  It finally dawned on me how completely out of character the behavior was for prisoner D.  I noticed signs of physical decline as well, poor complexion, a wet spot on the front of his jumpsuit.  I wondered if his brain was breaking down along with his body.  So I called the psychiatrist in one of the mental health units, described all the symptoms and the sudden drastic change in prisoner D's behavior.  I wanted to know if he was suffering from dementia or some kind of brain injury.  Dr. K expressed great surprise at my question, appreciation for my "humanity" toward this prisoner.  I was just doing my job.  Hearing officers have to determine if a prisoner was mentally responsible for the behavior at the time of the incident, which I strongly suspected prisoner D was not.  Dr. K. confirmed my suspicions that prisoner D could very well be experiencing some form of dementia.  After that my hearing investigator and I made sure he got a physical and psych evaluation.  He ended up going to a prison in Coldwater, to a geriatric unit.