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This seven-and-a-half-minute video clip offers a close-up glimpse of the interactions between the mentally ill and the mental health staff in Ohio's prison system and the challenges involved in making an accurate evaluation on how to treat and help mentally ill inmates.

In the clip, Dr. Abul Hassan, the medical director at the prison hospital, Oakwood Correctional Facility, is conducting a video-conferenced hearing on whether Fabian Whitaker needs to continue to be forced to take his medication. Whitaker, a 44-year-old man diagnosed as a bipolar paranoid schizophrenic, maintains the medication that he is on is not right and if it were right, he says he would take it voluntarily.

This hearing at the Lucasville prison follows the standard legal procedure in which inmates receive "due process": A third-party psychiatrist is present for an evaluation that is done along with the inmate's mental health team. The treating psychiatrist presents the case and the inmate has the opportunity to call witnesses and speak in his own defense. This kind of process must be conducted in evaluating the issue of forced medication. Often an inmate, once he becomes stabilized, may be willing to take the medication.

Whitaker grew up living with his abusive aunt and uncle and has experienced auditory hallucinations, paranoid delusions, episodes of depression, agitation, and aggression resulting in violence towards others. He was found guilty of murder by reason of insanity after he beat a man to death with a brick in 1979. Due to his insanity plea, he was sent to a psychiatric hospital instead of prison. In 1994, while he was being treated at the Central Ohio Psychiatric Hospital, he assaulted a nurse and received an additional prison term of six to 15 years. Since 1995, he has been imprisoned in maximum-security at Lucasville.

Whitaker has been in and out of the Ohio prison system's Oakwood psychiatric facility numerous times and has been in intensive mental health segregation. At times, he expresses a desire to get better, although mental health evaluations have confirmed that he experiences low self-esteem and he sometimes feels like he is useless as an individual.

Whitaker often denies having a mental illness, and since he first entered prison, he has been intermittently compliant with his meds. He does well on medication; at times he is cooperative and polite, although he can become irritated, angry and defensive when discussing his psychiatric and legal history. He is eager to participate in group therapy and one-on-one sessions with therapists to discuss ways that he could better himself and improve his communication with others.

Dr. Gary Beven, Whitaker's treating psychiatrist at the prison, testifies at the hearing that he believes Whitaker should continue to be on the forced meds. "… [I]t's my professional opinion that he meets the criteria for mandated medication, due to being a danger to self, as evidenced by history of severe depression with suicidal ideation -- although I must state at the present time that this is not a primary concern," he says. "His aggressive tendencies towards others are the main concern. He, at times, manifests a danger to others, as evidenced by assaultiveness and aggression toward other inmates and mental health staff members, and is a gravely disabled person by evidence of his severe mental illness, which includes delusions, auditory hallucinations, periodic poor hygiene, poor insight and judgment, and thought disorganization."

At the end of the hearing, the committee, which includes psychiatrists and mental health staff, including a nurse advocating on Whitaker's behalf, decides to extend Whitaker's involuntary medication for an additional 180 days.

Editor's Note: As of Mar. 6, 2006, Fabian Whitaker is still on the mental health unit at Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, the maximum-security prison in Lucasville, OH. He has been having a few problems and spent time in segregation in February after receiving a ticket for misconduct.

 

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posted may 10, 2005; updated march 3, 2006

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