IN APRIL 2015, Jamycheal Mitchell, 24, was accused of stealing $5 worth of snacks from a convenience store. A Virginia judge ordered Mitchell, who had been prescribed schizophrenia medication, to be sent to a psychiatric hospital, but there were no open hospital beds, so he was put behind bars instead.
Five months later, Mitchell was found dead in his cell at the Hampton Roads jail, 36 pounds lighter and lying in a urine-soaked bed, according to his family.
In December, the Justice Department launched an investigation into civil rights violations in that facility. "All prisoners, including those with mental illness, have a constitutional right to receive necessary medical care, treatment and services," Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, said in a statement.
If the Justice Department intends to hold jails and prisons to those standards, it has many more cases to launch. Across the country, the mentally ill are routinely shoved into cells and denied proper care.
An investigation by the Sun Sentinel in Florida found the Broward County jail's contracted health care provider "left severely mentally ill inmates unmedicated and malnourished, despite having the authority to help them." Seven inmates...