In the latest gruesome dispatch from the clusterfuck that is America’s corrections system, the Associated Press reported last week that Jerome Murdough, a mentally ill former Marine, “basically baked to death” in his 6-by-10 cinderblock cell in Rikers Island.
According to the AP, Murdough, who was homeless and on anti-psychotropic and anti-seizure medication, had been at Rikers for about a week, after being picked up by police in February on a misdemeanor trespassing charge for sleeping on the roof of a Harlem housing project.
On the night he died, Murdough had complained of being overheated. Because he was housed in a special unit for mentally ill inmates, officers were supposed to check on his cell every 15 minutes, but instead he was ignored and left alone.
When his cell was finally opened, four hours later, Murdough was already dead, and his internal body temperature and the temperature in his cell were at least 100 degrees. The incident is horrifying, but also perhaps unsurprising, given the grim—and often deadly—conditions for mentally ill inmates at big urban jails like Rikers Island.
The number of mentally ill people housed in American prisons and jails has “skyrocketed” over the past few decades, said Bandy Lee, a professor of psychology at Yale University who specializes in violence at prisons and jails.
Murdough’s death, Lee said, “is actually a natural consequence” of putting mentally ill inmates in facilities that are neither designed nor equipped to deal with them. “It’s evidence of the level of ignorance that corrections officers have of the mentally ill.”
How A Mentally Ill Homeless Man Baked in His Rikers Jail Cell | VICE United States