The ripple effects of Ronald Reagan’s decision in the late 1970s to shut down mental hospitals in California still continue and there’s no better proof than inside the Los Angeles County jails. Twin Towers in downtown Los Angeles has become the de facto mental hospital. Of the nearly 20,000 inmates in the county’s jail system, about 60 percent suffer from mental illnesses. From my story:
Nurse Gabriel Rodriguez walks down the jail’s halls daily, where the signs on the sky-blue cell doors alert him to who’s behind the plexiglass:
Spitter. Biter. Combative. Escape Risk.
When the men and women first arrive to his unit, they often are confused or angry. Some spew racial and sexual slurs, while others smear their own feces on themselves, sing loudly or holler at the top of their lungs about fascist governments.
But Rodriguez and those who work with him at the Forensic Inpatient Program inside the Twin Towers Correctional Facility downtown see past it all. Their job is to care for patients with acute mental illness until they become stable inmates. Here’s my full story (Daily News, 2008).