Archive for Friday, July 9, 2004

Mentally ill inmates concern jail staff

Three incidents highlight need for treatment programs, sheriff says

July 9, 2004


The man charged with holding a nurse hostage inside the Douglas County Jail last fall and threatening to kill her with a pencil has a history of bipolar disorder, records show.

After three months of court-ordered treatment and evaluation at Larned State Security Hospital, Joshua J. Bourell, 23, Hutchinson, appeared Thursday in District Court, where his attorney waived a preliminary hearing and scheduled a plea hearing for July 22.

Bourell's case is one of several recent examples of inmates with mental-health problems causing turmoil inside the jail. Sheriff Rick Trapp said he'd seen statistics that indicated between 16 and 20 percent of the daily jail population nationwide had some kind of mental illness.

"I don't think those numbers are too far off for us," he said. "It's a serious issue that we constantly deal with. It's a challenge to our staff."

In the late 1990s, state officials cited a shift toward "community-based" treatment as a reason for closing two state hospitals for the mentally ill in Topeka and Winfield. Trapp said it was a worthwhile goal but the state never provided enough money for community treatment programs.

" I think that some of these people being in jail could avoid that if they had more access to medical facilities," Trapp said.

Bourell, from Hutchinson, was arrested Oct. 16 on suspicion of battering police and damaging property at Captain Ribman's Meat Market, 811 N.H. On Oct. 24, prosecutors allege, he grabbed a member of the Douglas County Visiting Nurses Assn. as she was dispensing medication inside the jail's maximum-security section.

A half-hour standoff ended peacefully. Trapp said jail officers have tightened security procedures in some areas as a result of the incident, but he wouldn't go into detail.

Bourell was charged with aggravated kidnapping, aggravated battery and attempted aggravated escape from custody. A judge found Bourell incompetent to stand trial and ordered him to Larned, where he was treated and found competent in February.

According to a motion by Bourell's attorney, Bourell has been hospitalized in the past for bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, which is characterized by severe mood swings. The disease affects about 1 percent of the country's adult population, according to the National Institutes of Health, and can be accompanied by symptoms of psychosis such as hallucinations or delusions.

Most people who have bipolar disorder can have their mood stabilized through regular treatment, according to the government.

Other recent incidents at the jail:

  • In February, jail officers had repeated problems with a 28-year-old Lawrence inmate who was shouting racial epithets and refusing to comply with officers' requests. The man had been prescribed anti-psychotic medication in the past, records show.
  • In May 2003, an inmate with a history of bipolar disorder allegedly threw urine at jail officers. The same inmate later threatened a jailer with a pencil and had to be carried out of his sentencing hearing by officers in riot gear.

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