When Anthony Gay, then-19 years old, was sentenced by an Illinois court for a 1993 probation violation and strong arm robbery that netted a hat and a dollar bill, he was sent to prison for 7 years. But his actions while incarcerated, driven by his mental illness, resulted in years of solitary confinement and additional criminal convictions, chiefly due to a series of assaults on guards, including throwing feces and urine out of the food slot in his cell door. By 2013, his sentence had been increased to 97 years and his release date pushed back to around 2091.
Luckily for Gay, Scott Main, an attorney at the Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern University, took a look at a series of convictions for 17 assaults on guards that occurred over a 10-month period in 2000 and 2001. Main noticed that the sentences had been improperly run consecutively, or stacked on one another. The law only allowed them to be added to Gay’s original robbery conviction or a subsequent 1998 prison assault conviction. The State’s Attorney agreed and a judge granted a motion to modify Gay’s sentence on January 31, 2014. His new release date was August 2018, just a week after his 44th birthday.
Gay could be a poster child for the problems inherent in incarcerating the mentally ill. During his prison stay he practiced self-mutilation, even to the point of cutting out one of his testicles and hanging it on a cell door in 2010. He was featured in an investigative news series, “Trapped in Tamms,” that described how mentally ill prisoners were being housed in maximum-security facilities, often in isolation, with little treatment for their mental illness; consequently, their behavior resulted in additional convictions and sentences.
“He is the classic example of how we treat mentally ill people in prison in this society,” said Alan Mills, head attorney for Chicago’s Uptown People’s Law Center. “He should not even be in prison. This was a case involving stealing a dollar bill.”
Mills noted that the Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC) has long regarded mentally ill prisoners solely as “security problems,” with little concern for providing treatment for their mental illnesses.
“They have been working on this, but they have a long way to go,” he said.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union that represents DOC guards, supports treatment for mentally ill prisoners according to its spokesman, Anders Lindall.
“Given cuts to public mental health treatment on the state and local levels, and the increasing numbers of individuals with mental illness in the justice system as a result, this investment is even more urgently needed,” Lindall stated.
DOC spokeswoman Stacey Solano reported that 10,600 prisoners – or 22% of the DOC’s population of around 48,300 – have “some sort of mental health need,” and 4,600 (about 10%) are classified as “seriously mentally ill.”
Meanwhile, Gay was among the 179 Tamms prisoners transferred to the Pontiac Correctional Center when the DOC prepared to close Tamms. Although the prison was shuttered in January 2013 [see: PLN, June 2013, p.1], the state reportedly continues to spend $750,000 annually on the facility for utilities, maintenance and security, according to a May 2015 news report.
Sources: www.bnd.com, www.illinoispolicy.org, www.aclu.org
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