Released from a psych ward but trapped under surveillance

A look into how CA Conditional Release Program (CONREP) impedes on some individuals’ ability to be lifted from the constraints of psychiatric hospitals after initial release, your Friday long read

We go to The Marshall Project for this week's long read by Christie Thompson, read the whole article “​​No Driving, No Working, No Dating: Inside A Government Program That Controls The Lives of People Leaving Psych Hospitals.” We include key excerpts below to convince you it’s worth your time.

Policing each and every move 

Venus Moore had been released from the California psychiatric hospital where she was confined for years. But she was far from free.

The pandemic was raging, and her sister could provide a safe place for her to live. But Moore, 48, was required instead to live locked inside a care home for seniors. She was not allowed to drive, work, open a bank account, travel or date.

The restrictions stemmed from something that had happened two decades earlier. In 2001, diagnosed with a mental illness and experiencing hallucinations, she stabbed a relative. She was charged with assault with a deadly weapon and inflicting great bodily injury. If she had been found guilty of these crimes, she could have served up to seven years in prison. Instead, she was found not guilty by reason of insanity and sent to a state hospital indefinitely.

Underscored

After years of treatment, her doctors decided in 2012 that she was stable enough to return to Los Angeles. She was put on “forensic conditional release,” more commonly known as CONREP: a statewide outpatient program that primarily supervises and treats people leaving psychiatric hospitals who landed there because of serious criminal charges.

Most people in the program, like Moore, were found not guilty by reason of insanity, often for violent crimes, but after years of hospitalization, were ready for mental health care in the community.

CONREP, which oversees roughly 650 Californians, is meant to help patients transition from institutions to independence, while also trying to prevent violent relapses. But according to a Marshall Project investigation, many patients, family members, former employees and attorneys say the system can trap people for decades in a legal limbo, one that dictates where former patients live, whether they work, and whom they see.

Bottom line

For Moore, this year finally brought freedom. The judge in her case made the unusual decision to take her off CONREP before she was fully “restored to sanity.” She was allowed to move out of the nursing home and into an apartment her sister Janell set up for her — her first time living on her own in 20 years. Moore decorated the walls with paintings she did while locked down at the nursing home and photos of her kids and grandkids.

“In the mental health system, you literally don’t have an end date,” said Janell, ticking through the many funerals, birthdays, and other milestones her sister had missed. “There is no counting down.”

Moore now receives therapy through a community mental health organization, and she has set up a bank account, gotten a driver’s license, enrolled in community college, and started babysitting her 1-year-old grandson. “I accomplished a lot they said I could not do on my own,” she said.

Read the whole article here.


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