Success Stories: Chapter 4 – University Legal Services
I would like to introduce you to one of Qlarant Foundation’s newest grantees – University Legal Services, Inc. This year, for the first time, we are funding the organization’s DC Jail and Prison Advocacy Project (JPAP). This project is dedicated to redressing abuse, neglect, or discrimination that increase periods of incarceration and serve as barriers to successful reentry for men and women with significant mental illness and intellectual or other psychiatric disabilities. In addition, the program aims to help those with co-occurring substance use disorders.
Established in 2007, JPAP advocates for access to both physical and mental health care. Using individual and systemic advocacy and a multi-disciplinary team, JPAP addresses these unmet needs. Reentry Advocates assess individuals’ behavioral and physical health care and service needs and develop individual reentry plans. They also link clients to appropriate services and assist them with applying for public benefits and housing before their release. JPAP is the only entity in Washington, D.C. assisting incarcerated individuals with pre-release applications for disability benefits.
JPAP begins working with clients four to six months before their release dates to establish a trusting relationship and focus on each individual’s goals for their return to the community. A reentry plan always includes access to behavioral health services and can include access to physical health services, short and long-term housing, disability benefits, family reunification, and other preparation for social integration.
Our first ULS Success Story
JPAP works tirelessly to ensure their clients are able to receive mental health treatment, even if they have been denied in the past. One such case was featured in The Marshall Project’s recently published article on behavioral health services in the Federal Bureau of Prisons. “Treatment Denied: The Mental Health Crisis in Federal Prisons” sheds light on how the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has significantly lowered the number of individuals that are able to receive mental health treatment through their inmate classification system.
The JPAP client highlighted in “Treatment Denied”, Mr. John Rudd, had a long history of receiving mental health services in the community. He was placed in a suicide-watch cell after expressing suicidal thoughts. He then attempted suicide. Nevertheless, prison staff determined that he was feigning his symptoms and kept his “care level 1” status, meaning that he had no significant mental health needs and would receive no mental health treatment. Mr. Rudd has medical records dating back to the early 1990s documenting psychiatric disabilities, including Schizophrenia and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. When Mr. Rudd was released, JPAP helped secure housing, disability benefits, and a therapist he now meets with biweekly. His recent prison records said he had no mental illness. However, JPAP staff was able to track down and use his old records to document his long history of psychiatric problems and treatment. These records were key in securing treatment and benefits for Mr. Rudd.
Though the Marshall Project’s article highlighted the lack of mental health treatment available in federal prisons, the effects extend well beyond prisons and into the community, particularly at halfway houses. If a person was not receiving mental health treatment while under the authority of the BOP, then they will not receive mental health treatment during their stay at the halfway house. If a person wants to reengage in mental health services, they have to request it and there is often a delay or a denial.
Our next Success Story
JPAP has seen great success advocating for mental health services for men living at Hope Village, D.C.’s halfway house for men. Our next success story is that of Mr. Henry Jones. He is an incredibly warm and polite African-American man in his 30s who has experienced homelessness throughout his adult life. Having been diagnosed at age 10 with borderline intellectual functioning, he had his first psychiatric hospitalization that same year and has received many mental health diagnoses. Mr. Jones has been hospitalized in psychiatric hospitals half a dozen times. Despite his extensive record of mental health needs, Mr. Jones received no mental health treatment at the BOP, which led to him being denied mental health treatment when he first arrived at Hope Village.
He hoped to reengage in mental health treatment as part of his reentry to the community. Instead, he hit a brick wall. “I went through hell from the beginning,” said Jones. “You think things are going to go smooth in the halfway house – that things are going to get done. I learned the hard way that Hope Village was not going to provide any support.” Mr. Jones tried to advocate on his own behalf, to no avail.
JPAP had been working with Mr. Jones on his reentry plan since he was in BOP, so he turned to his reentry advocate for help. Even with JPAP’s advocacy, there was a two-month delay before Mr. Jones was referred to a community provider to begin mental health treatment. However, with JPAP’s support, Mr. Jones is still engaged with the same mental health provider. With consistent mental health treatment and access to services, Mr. Jones now lives in transitional housing, works full-time, and is focused on his biggest goal: obtaining his GED.
Unfortunately, Mr. Jones is just one of many justice-involved individuals who must fight to obtain basic healthcare services. One by one, JPAP is improving access to services in the community for returning citizens with serious and persistent mental illness. This is a direct quote from Kevin Hodge, a client and another example of ULS’ impact on a person who was released from prison:
“I came to University Legal Services down and out from prison. But, thanks to Mrs. Curtrice Scott and the ULS staff, my life has taken a turn for the better. I thought the rain would never stop. Well, the storm is over and I’m moving into my own. It feels amazing. Thank you ULS for your support and inspiration and keep up the good work.”
University Legal Services’ advocacy is critical to ensure access to health care, including behavioral health care, as DC residents reenter the community from BOP facilities around the country, local halfway houses, and the DC Jail and Correctional Treatment Facility. Qlarant Foundation is privileged to have the opportunity to support physical and mental health care for the most neglected populations.