Jeffrey Moore was shot in the face. The trauma from his ordeal caused mental health challenges while taking numerous medications. The resulted: He was incarcerated. “At some point people will have mental health challenges, especially with problems they face in life,” he said.
Moore is getting assistance from University Legal Services (ULS), helping him transition to a halfway house. He believes it will be difficult to find work because of his condition. “People already make assessments about you,” he stated. “Why are people with mental health issues pushed back?”
Moore is one example of the thousands suffering from mental health issues who have been incarcerated. The topic is broad-based and depend on behavioral mechanisms that are sometimes hard to define.
ULS has formed a partnership with the D.C. Jail and Prison Advocacy Project (JPAP) for District residents who have been diagnosed with a mental illness or emotional impairment. Symptoms include schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Dr. Jennifer Skeem, a professor at the University of California Berkeley whose research involves justice policy with people that have emotional and behavioral problems, was part of the panel.
“There has been a dramatic increase since 2012,” Skeem said. “There is a perceived root of the problem through imperfect models of what actually works.”
Skeem mentioned a three-step process that takes priority in helping cases of mental illness. “Psychiatric services are not the linchpin,” Skeem continued. “What is the roadmap in the number of people and risk factors in criminal behavior?”
Ann-Marie Louison of the Nathaniel Project in New York City share her ideas about what is needed to help those who are incarcerated. As co-founder of the project, she developed the first “alternative-to-incarceration” program in the Manhattan Supreme Court. The program helps adults with severe mental illnesses that are convicted of felonies. “In New York, there is a natural judicial process in which the majority has felonies,” she said. “Quality of life is important.”
There are 25 mental health clinics or Core Service Agencies (CSAs) in the District. University Legal Services can help those decide which one best suit their needs depending on their condition.
The JPAP received a three-year grant from the Langeloth Foundation for a pilot program with ULS’ Federal Bureau of Prison’s Mental Health Transition Planning Project. Tammy Seltzer is the program director. The legal service provides incarcerated individuals with mental health assistance when leaving prison to go back into the community. The service also provides those who face discrimination due to their condition. The support continues for six months.
Taylar Neuvelle was glad she networked enough to find out about the project. “I had a mental breakdown. I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) complex due to abuse,” Neuvelle said. “When I went in front of the judge due to my symptoms, he didn’t care,” she said.
Neuvelle had been abused since childhood. Her former husband also abused her.
More information on University Legal Services can be obtained at www.uls-dc.org.