Prison Inmate Who Died of Thirst Received No Care for His Mental Illness

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True crime author Janice Holly Booth comments on the travesty of the mentally ill being incarcerated in prison. With Mental Health Awareness Week looming, this story is a cautionary tale.

A Voice out of Nowhere

For a mentally ill person, withholding food and water, forcibly restraining and locking them away in a solitary cell is extreme and inhumane.

As reported by the Associated Press on September 25, 2014, the autopsy of North Carolina inmate Michael Anthony Kerr, 54, revealed that he died of dehydration, and it was unclear when he last had access to food and water. Kerr, who was known to suffer from schizophrenia, died in the back seat of a van while being transported from Alexander Correctional Institution in Taylorsville, NC, to a mental hospital at Central Prison in Raleigh.

“The circumstances of this case are appalling,” says author Janice Holly Booth, whose best-selling true crime novel “A Voice out of Nowhere: Inside the mind of a mass murderer,” is a #1 best-seller in the category of schizophrenia. Kerr had been locked up in solitary confinement – referred to by inmates as the Hole – and had water cut off to his cell to keep him from flooding it. Following Kerr’s death, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety subsequently fired a captain and four nurses at Alexander. A nurse and staff psychologist resigned.

“This is another tragic example of why prisons are not the appropriate destination for the severely mentally ill,” says Booth. “People with schizophrenia and other severe mental illnesses need a specific kind of care and appropriate medication. For a mentally ill person, withholding food and water, forcibly restraining them, and locking them away in a solitary cell is extreme and inhumane.”

Mental Illness Awareness Week begins on Sunday, October 5, and Booth urges everyone to take the opportunity to learn more about mental illness and to become vocal advocates for the mentally ill.

“When I wrote ‘A Voice out of Nowhere,’ it was in large part to help readers understand the nature of schizophrenia and how it can drive its victims to behave in ways that are inexplicable and often violent," Booth noted.

The way to respond, she says, is not with violence or deprivation but with medical and psychiatric intervention.

About Janice Holly Booth
Born in British Columbia, Janice Holly Booth is an avid solo traveler and lifelong equestrienne. For more than 20 years, she was CEO of three national non-profit organizations. Booth is the author of Only Pack What You Can Carry (National Geographic), a solo travel memoir, and A Voice out of Nowhere: Inside the mind of a mass murderer, a #1 bestseller. She is now a full-time writer and speaker and lives near Charlotte, NC.

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Janice Holly Booth
Janice Holly Booth
since: 01/2011
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