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
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.