Questions and concerns of mental health struggles of incarcerated populations are largely ignored in prisons and underreported in establishment news reports. Instability, addiction, depression and other issues plague the incarcerated population, a group that are treated as one-dimensional criminals in mainstream media. As Emily Blake reported for This Magazine, Michael Nehass, an inmate in Yukon, Canada, has suffered mental health issues that have not been treated well. Nehass is a 34-year-old from Teslin, Yukon who has been in and out of the correctional system since he was 14 years old. Back in 201,1 a middle-aged woman was attacked and held at knife point. Nehass turned himself in as the perpetrator on December 29, 2017. Nehass grew up suffering from “physical, mental, and sexual abuse, and witnessed drug and alcohol misuse”. Nehass began binge drinking and misusing drugs as a preteen, to escape his reality. Nehass was diagnosed with multiple mental disorders at the age of 15, according to this article he “also made several suicide attempts; his first was at age 12.”
Nehass is the highest profile inmate at this facility due to his “accrued lengthy criminal record including multiple convictions for breaking and entering, assaults, assaults with weapons, and uttering threats.” How does this high-profile inmate lack the resources, which his record so clearly shows he needs, for mental health treatment? It is not a secret that other inmates suffer as Nehass has. Yukon’s Minister of Justice states that “many of those incarcerated in the territory… struggle with mental health issues.” The Yukon prison perpetuates these issues by allowing inmates to be held in solitary confinement for extended periods of time, breaking laws that mental health prisoners cannot stay in solitary for more than 15 consecutive days. Nehass’s case could bring to light the larger issue of mistreatment of mental health disorders in prisons.
Mental health not only affect inmates such as Nehass but also many other inmates around the world. When inmates with mental health issues are segregated, it is extremely unhealthy and can result in suicide. The former correctional investigator of Canada states that “in jails across Canada, this is where 50 percent of suicides take place.” There is a lack of portrayal of these institutions in our mainstream media for countless reasons. Ultimately those funding media outlets have the power to choose what is shown. If the truth about what happens behind closed doors in regards to mental health, inmate conditions, and the rates of suicide is revealed through mainstream media, the general public might begin to question our systems politics and those in power.
Source: Emily Blake, “How a Yukon Prison Failed its highest profile inmate,” THIS, February 12, 2018, https://this.org/2018/02/12/how-a-yukon-prison-failed-its-highest-profile-inmate/.
Student Researchers: Ryan Breslow, Nicole Dodes, Mackenzie Shibel, and Carmen Sylvia (University of Massachusetts Amherst)
Faculty Evaluator: Allison Butler (University of Massachusetts Amherst)