Up until this past Friday, the Alachua County Jail was accepting comments and concerns about the way in which it operates and manages. Of the few government officials who submitted letters, each one had nothing but positive things to say.
However, many inmates of the jail do not feel the same way. Inmates are obviously not supposed to like jail. They are being punished for committing a crime, and it should be an undesirable place to spend one’s days. But, it should be undesirable because an inmate has no freedom, is living in a cell and is being told what to do and where to be all the time. It should not be undesirable because they are being treated as less than humans.
Some inmates, including those serving their time in the Alachua County Jail, have mental health issues. People with mental health issues have a hard life as it is. It is bad enough when outside forces act upon you and cause you discomfort and stress. Those with mental health issues deal with all of that, plus the same feelings coming from within. Additionally, some have to deal with backlash and consequences of others not understanding them or being unable to get the help they need and deserve.
This is a struggle many people face, but many people have friends and family in their corner to advocate for them. Maybe their boss doesn’t understand when they need a personal day because their anxiety is overwhelming them, but their best friend is there for them 24/7 and understands if they cancel plans. Maybe their friend doesn’t always understand why it is so important that they turn around to go back for their medication, but their mom does, and she would bring it to them anytime, anywhere. These hypothetical people still have it hard, as does everyone who suffers from a mental illness. However, they are free. If they don’t like the way someone is treating them, at the very least they have the legal ability to go elsewhere.
Inmates don’t have this option. They can seek solace in fellow inmates, but jail sometimes isn’t the best environment for this. Some are allowed visitation with friends or family, but this can be highly ineffective if a person is in a bad place mentally. Additionally, they very well could be in solitary confinement. If an inmate is placed in a suicide watch cell, they are alone. They are kept in a padded cell, so they can be monitored, understandably. But, this is inhumane. In a person’s absolute darkest hour, shutting someone completely off from everyone and everything in the world other than themselves and a jail cell is not the way to help them.
People in jail are not lesser than the rest of us. Maybe they’ve made mistakes. Maybe they should be held accountable for their actions. I do not disagree with the idea of the prison system itself. I think people should not be permitted to commit crimes and then be sent back out into the world with no consequences. However, I firmly believe our prison system is broken.
As I mentioned in an earlier column, our criminal justice system focuses more on punishment than on rehabilitation. If a person suffers from mental illness, they should still be held accountable for their actions. However, they should not be treated exactly the same in jail as someone without these issues. Withholding medication prescribed by a psychiatric professional is inhumane. Tossing someone who mentions having suicidal thoughts into a solitary confinement cell is not a solution. It is a way to avoid having blood on your hands.
So, I ask our own county jail and jails across America: What are we doing? These are people. We need to be better to each other than this. We can ensure people serve their time while still valuing their mental health and their humanity.
Taylor Cavaliere is a UF journalism and psychology junior. Her column focuses on mental health.