Should inmates get mental health medications in jail?

Published On: May 20 2013 06:45:42 PM PDT   Updated On: May 20 2013 06:46:14 PM PDT
SPOKANE, Wash. -

When a person goes to jail, should they lose their right to receive medication? A Spokane father said that's what happened to his teenage son, denying his mental health drugs behind bars.

Rob Lee worries without them, the young inmate will hurt himself or someone else.

Back in December his 19-year-old son was one of several people caught shooting paintball guns at people sitting at bus stops. He was sentenced to nine months in the Spokane County Jail but when his dad surrendered his son to be punished, corrections deputies refused the teen's mental health medications.

"He never missed a court date, he accepts full responsibility for his actions," Lee said.

Lee makes no bones about his son's guilt or sentence but suspects his boy wound up behind bars because of the teen's mental health problems, bi-polar disorder, among them.

"When he was originally arrested on these charges in December he had been in jail for 10 days and did not receive any medical treatment what so ever of that 10 days so we had a heads up," Lee said.

That heads up prompted Lee to begin making sure  his son could still get his meds when he began his longer sentence. In fact Judge Annette Plese ordered the jail to provide the medications when the teen was convicted.

"I brought him there, I had his medicines. I had his medical records, I had court orders from the judge, I had everything required and two weeks prior to him going to jail I had called the jail to arrange for his medications so he would have them when he got there," Lee said.

Corrections officers refused to accept Lee's medications when he was booked and told Lee no outside drugs are allowed inside the jail.

"When in reality it should have been accepted, then the in-house physician would have confirmed through that person's physician that those medications were prescribed to that person in the amount that was shown on the prescription bottles themselves," Spokane County Sheriff's Deputy Craig Chamberlin said.

To make matters worse, the jail told Lee he hadn't filled out the right paperwork. Even though the form was completed same day Lee's son was booked. 

"And I was told at the time he checked in that it did not matter what the judge's court order said. They don't have to follow them in the Spokane County Jail because the judge does not know what goes on inside the jail," Lee said.

Lee's son finally started getting his mental health medication eight days after he was locked up, but he's not the only inmate not receiving their doctor prescribed medications. Several prisoners have filed lawsuits against the Spokane County Jail alleging the same thing.

"Some are psychotic because they haven't had their medications," a nurse who works at a local hospital who asked to remain anonymous said.

The nurse said he sees a lot of inmates admitted to his emergency room suffering from not receiving the medications while behind bars.

"A lot of people get aggressive when they're coming off the medications improperly and can end up having psychotic episodes," he said.

On Monday the sheriff's office conceded Lee's son was not treated in accordance with the sheriff's policy on jail medications. In fact, Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich favors the use of mental health drugs for properly diagnosed inmates.

"The sheriff is very adamant that they have the capability to have that medication because it reduces the recidivism rate when those folks, get out of our institution. It keeps them stable so we don't have to re-arrest them," Chamberlin said.

Chamberlin said the jail staff is developing new ways to make sure inmates are not deprived of their doctor prescribed drugs in the future.