This poor mentally ill man has been in solitary confinement for years. Who would ever think that solitary confinement would ever be a treatment for severe mental illness? I do not have a mental illness, but I am sure I would create one if you placed me in solitary confinement for years. Where is it stated in the medical journals that confinement is a possible plan for treatment? I still want to blame the liberal laws on this one as well. Why was this man not getting and/or accepting medical treatment before his illness got so severe that all they knew to do or wanted to do with him was arrest and confine? I know that his is not the only story of mentally ill in our prison system. Obama can go after that, in my opinion, rather than some of the other things he has on his agenda.
Critics: Tamms has harmed man's mental condition
Will Tamms supermax prison inmate Donnie White be among the inmates considered for possible transfer after spending years in solitary confinement? That may depend on how corrections officials view his mental state.
Critics believe the strict discipline and isolation White has undergone at the Tamms Correctional Center for the past seven years may have made his severe mental illness, diagnosed in prison a decade ago, worse.
But mental health professionals at Tamms concluded last year that White, 35, no longer is mentally ill and deserves the punishment he's receiving for continued bizarre behavior, ranging from suicide attempts to setting himself on fire.
In September, Illinois Department of Corrections Director Michael Randle released a 10-point plan to reform conditions at Tamms, the state's only supermax prison. Among those reforms: 45 of the prison's 250 inmates are eligible for review to determine whether they should be moved out of Tamms.
It's not clear whether White will be one of them.
"Donnie White should never have been sent there in the first place, and now he has suffered years of sustained, unrelenting trauma as a result," said Laurie Jo Reynolds, a member of the Chicago-based Tamms Year Ten Committee that has advocated for reforms at Tamms. "Prisoners like him need protection from the (Department of Corrections), not the other way around.
"If there is any real commitment to reform, we expect Donnie White to be transferred immediately," she said.
Department of Corrections spokeswoman Januari Smith said federal medical privacy laws prevented her from making any comment about White's case. It's not clear what guidelines were used to determine whether an inmate is eligible for review and transfer.
Randle put the number of seriously mentally ill inmates at Tamms at 15, or 6 percent. A 2006 U.S. Department of Justice report of state prisons surveyed nationally put the figure at 15 to 23 percent.
White may be unique, though, among inmates at Tamms who have extensive histories of severe mental illness.
Prison medical records obtained by the Belleville News-Democrat show an unusual progression: White went from being "acutely mentally ill" in 1998 to not being mentally ill in 2008. During the 10-year interval, he was given powerful psychotropic medications, sometimes forcibly administered, intensive therapy and an emergency transfer for a few months to the prison system's Dixon Psychiatric Unit.
But in 2003, when prison officials sent him to Tamms after he had 15 years added to his original sentence for in-prison convictions -- throwing urine and feces at guards at another prison -- a Corrections Department psychologist wrote that the years of therapy and drugs did nothing to help White.
The evaluation stated, "Behaviors exhibited by Mr. White include setting fire to self ... attempting to hang self with numerous items, smearing feces on self and cell, banging fist on floors, stomping on hand and other self-injurious behaviors."
The evaluation reported that White still exhibited symptoms of serious mental illness.
He then was sent to Tamms, where he has been in solitary confinement for nearly seven years.
Although his suicide attempts and self-mutilation continued and medications didn't work, an April 10, 2008, mental evaluation of White stated, "Inmate White does not suffer from mental illness." It concluded that White engaged in "antics" and "appears to view staff, especially female mental health providers, as a vehicle for his own entertainment."
Randle has defended the practice of treatment seriously mentally ill prisoners at Tamms, which features solitary confinement as a mainstay.
Holley McCree, who has a master's degree in social work and counsels mentally ill patients in Minnesota, has corresponded with White for more than five years. She said that while she cannot make a professional diagnosis without examining White, she said that from his letters and medical and personal history, "I feel he is misdiagnosed."
McCree said White's original diagnosis of "major depression with psychotic features" should be re-examined and post traumatic stress disorder should also be considered.
"The reason I write Donnie and other mentally ill (Tamms) inmates is because they so obviously need some help, some caring and compassion," she said.
"Tamms inmates need time out of the cell, and the ability to socialize with other inmates without a steel door between them. They suffer tremendously. No one would rationally choose to live in the circumstances at Tamms," McCree said.
Alexandra H. Smith of the Mental Health Project at the Urban Justice Center in New York City said while any mental health therapy is better than none at all, "The tension of trying to provide treatment for people in a punitive setting, I don't know how successful that can be. I think it really sends a strong message to any human being who is shackled and in a cage. ... I think that sends a message that chaining someone like an animal is not rehabilitative."