A case in which a mentally disturbed man was beaten by some fellow prisoners at the Wilkes County Jail, and possibly sexually assaulted, should be fully investigated and corrective measures should be promptly taken, including hard punishments for the attackers. This is one more case that underscores just how terribly the state mental-health-care system is failing some of our most vulnerable residents.
The man was arrested June 12 after he went to seek help at the emergency room at Wilkes Regional Medical Center. But instead of being committed to a state mental hospital, the man was arrested after he became combative with a police officer. He spent three weeks in jail, where he was beaten. He also says he was sexually abused, the Journal's Monte Mitchell reported.
As one advocate for the mentally ill told Mitchell, "jails and prisons are not designed to be mental-health facilities."
Indeed. Neither are homeless shelters or the streets. But that's where hundreds of mentally ill people land every day in our state — even though many of them, like the man in the Wilkes case, are literally crying out for help.
The Journal does not usually name those who report sexual abuse unless they choose to indentify themselves. The man in the Wilkes case is in his early 20s, has lived in group homes in various parts of the state for nearly half his life and has had extended psychiatric hospitalizations. His problems include Asperger's syndrome, mental retardation and hyperactivity disorder.
After an emergency-room doctor at Wilkes Regional would not commit the man to a state mental hospital, he got mad and said he wasn't leaving. He slapped a police officer and was charged with assault on a government official and taken to the jail.
Mitchell's story details much of the beating he received there. Wilkes Sheriff Chris Shew said his office is investigating the man's claim that he was also sexually abused. That probe must be exhaustive and result in any corrective action needed.
The sad fact is that beatings and sexual assaults are commonplace in jails and prisons. But they're all the more egregious when they happen to someone who should have been receiving mental-health treatment.
The sheriff's investigation is ongoing. But what is certain so far is that the state mental-health-care system, once again, has terribly failed one of our most vulnerable residents. The legislature should be demanding a better system, but it has only worsened the situation with deep budget cuts.
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter"