A Mentally Ill Man in Solitary Cut Off a Body Part at the Broward County Jail

Around midnight on Sept. 5, 2018, guards responded to prisoners banging on their cell doors inside a lockdown unit at Broward County Jail’s main facility in downtown Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. They went to the solitary cell of J.I.* and made a gruesome discovery.  

“I have a real medical emergency,” J.I. told an officer. “I just cut my penis off and flushed it down the toilet. I have no need for it anymore.”

J.I. had used a razor blade to cut himself. This grisly act of self-mutilation is just the latest chapter in a series of tragic incidents involving seriously mentally ill prisoners at the jail.    

J.I. has a documented history of mental health treatment dating back to 2007. He was booked into the jail in late October 2017. Two months later, he was placed on suicide watch after he told staff he suffered from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and wanted to harm himself. J.I. was prescribed various mental health medications during his jail stay, which he repeatedly refused in the months leading up to his self-mutilation.  These included antipsychotics and an antidepressant that could have helped to prevent J.I.’s condition from worsening.  

Prior to his placement in solitary confinement, J.I. had begun showing telltale signs of a mental health crisis. J.I. had public masturbatory episodes, and along with his medication refusals, he also refused food.

These signs should have been a red flag to the doctors supposedly overseeing J.I.’s care.  Yet his medical record contains few notes or observations from the jail’s mental health staff. As he deteriorated, his treatment plan was not updated, a glaring omission.  

J.I. was initially placed in solitary confinement for yelling at staff members. He had been in solitary for over 112 consecutive days at the time of his mutilation.

Prisoners in solitary confinement are isolated, unable to interact with others or participate in daily activities. Instead, men and women in solitary spend their days alone in a cell that is roughly the size of a parking space. It is well recognized that prisoners experiencing these harsh conditions need to be assessed by a mental health professional prior to and during their placement in solitary, as isolation can exacerbate or even cause mental health problems.

None of these safeguards were followed for J.I. 

No psychiatrist assessed him prior to his placement in segregation to determine if this placement could be harmful. He was not adequately monitored while in solitary for the four months leading up to his mutilation. The risks to those like J.I. who already have serious mental illness are acute. There is a consensus that those suffering from serious mental illness should be excluded from long-term solitary confinement altogether.

J.I.’s self-mutilation was just the latest in a series of tragic incidents involving seriously mentally ill prisoners at the Broward County Jail.   

In 2012, William Herring, a prisoner diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, starved himself to death under the watch of Broward County Jail officials. A few months before Herring’s death, Raleigh Priester also starved to death at the jail. 

Priester, too, suffered from schizophrenia, but he was still placed in solitary confinement where his condition deteriorated. Priester began starving himself and the 6-foot-2-inch man’s weight dropped from 240 pounds when he was first arrested to 139 pounds before any emergency medical intervention was undertaken. He was briefly hospitalized, gaining 11.6 pounds in one week. After his return to the jail, Priester died of starvation in his cell weighing 120 pounds. He was in jail for 155 days.

We have an ongoing civil rights lawsuit on behalf of the men, women, and children confined at the Broward County Jail. Just a week before J.I. mutilated himself, a court-appointed psychiatric expert in our case issued a scathing report finding numerous life-threatening deficiencies in mental health services at the jail. These included a failure to exclude seriously mentally ill patients from solitary confinement, to timely treat patients who refused their medications, and to hospitalize those patients who could not be adequately treated at the jail. 

The expert concluded that the mistreatment and neglect of those with mental illness at the jail were “absolutely inhumane.”

Following the expert’s report, the parties crafted a comprehensive decree that will remedy the flaws and failures of the jail’s mental health care system. That agreement awaits approval from the presiding federal judge. Under the agreement, seriously mentally ill patients will be excluded from solitary confinement, and individual treatment plans will be developed and implemented for all mental health patients. The most acutely ill patients will be diverted to psychiatric hospitals rather than being warehoused at the jail.

These remedies came too late to prevent the tragedies that befell J.I., Priester, Herring, and too many others. They must be implemented now to prevent future tragedies at the Broward County Jail.

* “J.I.” is the man’s initials. For his privacy, we have used just his initials throughout this piece.

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Anonymous

This poor man was a victim of abuse by prison officials after prior cases of manslaughter.

Ms. Gloria Anasyrma

Was J.I. Transgender or not?

Anonymous

Wtf? Does it really matter?

Anonymous

Who the hell cares what his sexual orientation is? What's wrong with you?

KRS

The way this world has become and turning another direction, I would like to know who the hell is running this country? its supposed to be "WE THE PEOPLE" where are all the people then? Something is terribly wrong with the jusdicial system, police departments and employees who go through training yet go out killing people because of their own fears. Mental Health issues and illnesses are a big part of this society so people and others in power have to understand it before judging Who are these people doing what they want with peoples lives? When all of a sudden is it a crime to do what i want with my body? If I choose to use drugs, drink alcohol, smoke some bud, take vitamins, drink a red bull, over dose on nyquil, starve myself to death, eat till Im 400# and list goes on...then thats my business and the next guys business. If people choose to use drugs for whatever reason than thats what it is. Police should never even search or pat down anyone in public view. Its nobodys business and they are to do that procedure once they take them to the jail. Police procedures done immorally , unjust, incorrectly, abusive and disrespectful to people should be removed from the dept. why are they officers to begin with? Their job duties are to protect and serve the community and keep people and peoples property safe. We are all supposed to work together not turn the other cheek and stab in the back. Thats strange behavior to me. Those with Mental Health issues dont need to be in jail. These people suffer everyday with some type of trauma or event that happened in their life that effected them so bad and nobody cares. They may have no family left, lost a child, suffer pain, have no one to talk to, no place to live but whatever it is, it needs to be addressed and stopped. They need love, care and proper teaching. They need to talk about whats bothering them, letting expression and feelings to the surface and maybe that person can feel a little more whole again. Isolation makes it worse and causes the brain to change as it fights hard with consious and sub consious thinking. Lonliness, thinking and trying to deal with inner energy isnt easy. all sorts of stuff runs through the mind and when there are no answers for allot of this, well then there are problems with everyone else. Its everyone else that cant figure out how to deal with society so they put rules and laws out that violate us as a human being. Why should I have to drug test to get a job when I havent started work yet? why am i being judged, before in all fairness given the opportunity to perform work duties first? They want me to pay for the test? Obsurd. its my urine and dont think its anyones right to draw inner fluids from anyones body just because they want to or feel like it. Who are these strangers making us do things that are unusual? They need to catch real criminals doing white collar crimes, abusing elders, embezzeling, killing, and harming others, not a person who uses drugs because they have mental health issues. Whomever thay are, in charge of everything, as it seems to be today, they need to go. Fire them, drug test them whatever but no one tells me what I can and cannot do with my body. Its mine and yours is yours. Its no fun being an American anymore. Life isnt fun like it used to be, people are rude, game players etc....Marriage is a game and a big business, thats all. So is death. Everyone talks about everyone and its stupid. Strange world we live in

Ms. Gloria Anasyrma

I think someone is hopped up on amphetamines.

Anonymous

You can thank Ronald Reagan for the circumstances as they are. He is the one the ended psychiatric care and instead put mentally incapacitated people in jail. Somewhat ironic that he died after losing his entire life's memory of everything -- but Alzheimers is not a mental condition.

Anonymous

The jail is about beds being filled, since the privatization of prisons and health services being contracted businesses. Those that run these services are not health care professionals and they lack compassion. They dont care about the health of "criminals" not understanding that everyone in jail is not a criminal, half the nurses are there for a check not to provide holistic nursing care and the small percentage of nurses that do hands are tied by company policies set in place to save money by skimming quality nursing care. And of course the governing bodies dont care, nobody care as long as money is being made.

Lynne

Sadly this has happened in psychiatric hospitals as well as in jails across the US and likely world wide. No doubt it occurs more often in the jail system that has a woeful history when it comes to mental illness issues. As a retired psychiatric RN I am all too familiar with the abysmal systems providing treatment for mental illnesses. In attempting to not deprive these patients of their "rights" a tricky business at best, they have been forced onto the streets and instead of mandated treatment in safe facilities they have instead been shot and or incarcerated. I am going to take a guess that barely 1/3 have any kind of insurance which adds to their troubles.
In the past 35y there has been little change except to push these fragile at risk human beings out into the communities that find them homeless and terrifying.
I am glad you made an effort on this patients behalf but you must know that it is but a drop in the bucket of these desparately ill people

Anonymous

My son also had biopolar and he did not get any medication they sent him home with no medicine and now he is dead.

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