Cover Story: Mental Illness and Harris County Jail

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Alexander Hatcher was 19 the first time he was arrested – for stealing clothes from a department store – and 29 when he was diagnosed as bipolar and schizophrenic – after telling a nurse about visions of suicide. Petty crimes, drugs and mental illness have kept Hatcher in and out of jails, rehab programs and state hospitals for most of his life.

In December 2006, Hatcher was arrested for criminal mischief and booked into Harris County Jail, where, according to a jail disciplinary file, he raised holy hell, attacking staff members and sometimes flinging his own excrement on nurses, guards and detention officers. Fights with deputies were common, and on at least one occasion, Hatcher was bashed in the face and seriously injured, suffering permanent damage to his eyesight. The fights continued and Hatcher accumulated five felony charges, ranging from assault to harassment of a public servant.

For the first time in his life, Hatcher was labeled a violent criminal.

But according to workers at the jail who agreed to talk with the Houston Press on the condition of anonymity, Hatcher is a prime example of problems at the jail. It took months before he was given medication, they said, and Hatcher was locked away in a solitary cell, ignored by doctors and nurses.

The fights with guards were provoked, one worker said, because "[deputies and detention officers] don't care that these people are mentally ill."

In July, Hatcher was convicted on an assault charge for one of his fights with a deputy and sentenced to 53 years in state prison. Read more about Hatcher's stay at Harris County Jail in "Gone to Hell," the cover story in this week's Houston Press. – Paul Knight

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